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On Becoming
    a Leader
Also by Warren Bennis
      Beyond Leadership (co-author)
      Beyond Bureaucracy
      Co-Leaders (co-author)
      Douglas McGregor on Management (co-author)
      Geeks and Geezers (co-author)
      Judgment (co-author)
      Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge (co-author)
      Leaders on Leadership (editor)
      Learning to Lead (co-author)
      Managing People Is Like Herding Cats
      Managing the Dream
      Old Dogs, New Tricks
      Organizing Genius (co-author)
      Reinventing Leadership (co-author)
      The Temporary Society (co-author)
      Transparency (co-author)
      The 21st Century Organization (co-author)
      The Unreality Industry (co-author)
      Why Leaders Can’t Lead
On Becoming
    a Leader

                          Warren Bennis

                            NEW YORK
             The poem “Six Significant Landscapes,” by Wallace Stevens,
                is taken from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens and is
               used by permission of the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

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    their products are claimed as trademarks. Where those designations
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                                Copyright © 2009 by Warren Bennis Inc.
                  First Edition Copyright © 1989 by Warren Bennis Inc.

      All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
       stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any
   means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise,
    without the prior written permission of the publisher. Printed in the
                                                 United States of America.

                      Library of Congress Control Number: 2003100205
                             ISBN: 978-0-465-01408-8; 0–7382–0817–5

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                                        1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
          To David Cannom, MD,
               David Gergen, and
                  Stephen Sample
for their unsparing efforts to make
     our world healthier and saner.
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   Acknowledgments                                     xi
   Introduction to the Revised Edition, 2003          xiii
   Introduction to the Original Edition, 1989        xxix

 1 Mastering the Context                                1
 2 Understanding the Basics                           33
 3 Knowing Yourself                                   49
 4 Knowing the World                                  67
 5 Operating on Instinct                              95
 6 Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything   107
 7 Moving Through Chaos                              135
 8 Getting People on Your Side                       147
 9 Organizations Can Help—or Hinder                  165
10 Forging the Future                                185
   Epilogue to the Twentieth-Anniversary Edition     199

   Biographies                                       227
   References                                        241
   Index                                             245
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Although mine is the only name on this book, it has been a col-
laboration, as all books are. I discovered long ago that the way I
learn most effectively is in conversation with other people. It is
in the playful, exhilarating, joyous thrashing out of ideas with
brilliant colleagues that my own ideas are brought to life, re-
fined and vetted. In previous editions of On Becoming a Leader, I
tried to acknowledge all the people who originally helped to
shape this book, and I remain enormously grateful to all those
original collaborators and other colleagues and friends who so
generously shared their counsel, expertise, and time.
   For this twenty-first-century edition, collaborators deserve
special mention. First is my assistant at the University of South-
ern California, Marie Christian. Tirelessly, and with great tact
and intelligence, Marie keeps my professional life in order. In
ways great and small, she frees me to think and write, for which
I am grateful on a daily basis. Next is Nick Philipson, my editor
at Perseus Books. In preparing the 2003 edition of On Becoming
a Leader, Nick did far more than an editor is expected to do. He


began by re-reading the book with an affectionate but critical
eye, noting the places where it continued to speak to today’s re-
ality and, even more important, identifying those passages that
were no longer resonant. He gave me a map for revising the
book that made the task far less daunting. And, throughout the
process, he was a friend and colleague of the best sort, offering
sharp insights as well as praise, alert for errors but protective of
my voice and ideas, and both involved in the work and unobtru-
sive. In short, he was a joy to work with. For the anniversary
edition, Eric Paul Biederman contributed valuable insight, able
editing, and a critical eye. Finally, I must thank my longtime
friend and collaborator Patricia Ward Biederman. Pat and I
have the kind of working relationship people dream about. For
decades now, she has stimulated my ideas and helped them soar.
Each time we work together, I am reminded that the best col-
laborations are those in which there is much thought, much
passion, and much laughter.

                          to the Revised
                          Edition, 2003

The introduction is a snapshot of the world as it was when a
book was written. When I wrote the original introduction to
On Becoming a Leader, just before its publication in 1989, the
world was on the brink of extraordinary change. Although few
of us could have predicted it, the Berlin Wall would fall in
November, to the joyous clamor of rock music, effectively end-
ing the partition of Germany that dated back to the end of
World War II. But when the book came out earlier in the year,
Germany was still divided, the Soviet Union was intact, and
another, older George Bush was president of the United States.
Not far from Berlin was the relatively peaceful, unified nation
of Yugoslavia. The man who would later be hailed as the
George Washington of Africa, Nelson Mandela, remained a
prisoner of apartheid in a South African jail. The only people
familiar with the Internet were 400 users at a handful of univer-
sities and government agencies, and even those visionaries were
unaware how utterly it would transform everything from the
global economy to the way terrorists do their awful business. In

                    On Becoming a Leader

1989, Americans had cordless phones and VCRs, but the cell
phone and the DVD existed only in the human imagination.
   Fast forward thirteen years to 2002. As I write this in Cam-
bridge, Massachusetts, much of the world is consumed with the
question of whether the United States will go to war with Iraq.
Former President Jimmy Carter recently won the Nobel Peace
Prize, and, days later, North Korea revealed that it has nuclear
weapons after all. The possibility of nuclear catastrophe looms
over the planet as it has not done since the early 1960s, at the
height of the Cold War, when every American school child
knew to duck and cover in case of a Soviet attack. When I wrote
that original introduction, the United States was still recovering
from the stock market crash of October 1987. Since then, the
nation has undergone a period of unprecedented prosperity—
only to become mired, in the last year or two, in the most
painful recession most people under 50 have ever seen. In 1989,
the Democrats, eager to take back the White House, had high
hopes for the charismatic young governor of Arkansas. Bill
Clinton would serve two terms as president, only to be im-
peached (and ultimately acquitted) after a tacky scandal involv-
ing a young White House intern with an infamous blue dress.
George W. Bush is now in the Oval Office, after losing the pop-
ular vote in 2000 and having the presidential election decided,
for the first time ever, by the Supreme Court of the United
States. The human genome has been decoded and the secrets of
the human brain revealed as never before, thanks to extraordi-
nary imaging technology. And AIDS is no longer an automatic
death sentence in America, although it is killing more people in
sub-Saharan Africa than any disease since the great plagues of
the Middle Ages and rapidly spreading throughout Asia.
   The opening chapter of On Becoming a Leader urges readers
to “master the context,” and that is both more important than

          Introduction to the Revised Edition, 2003

ever and more difficult. In some ways, everything is different
from how it was in 1989. Indeed in his 1999 best-seller, The
Lexus and the Olive Tree, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist
Thomas L. Friedman writes: “the world is only ten years old.”
   The World Wide Web provides the most dramatic example
of how the last decade has transformed the world. In 1989, the
Internet’s 400 early adopters were predicting that it would rev-
olutionize how people communicate, but even they could not
imagine how pervasive it would become. As I write this, there
are more than 580 million Internet users worldwide, and usage
doubles every 100 days. Even if the Berlin Wall had not fallen
on November 9, 1989, the ability of people around the world
to effectively communicate electronically brought down all the
walls that previously separated and ghettoized nations.
   Since 1989, technology has done what ideology could not and
created a worldwide community of the wired. The web allows
revolutionary minorities to make their case to the outside world,
even when they are under siege, as rebels did several years ago in
the Mexican state of Chiapas. But even as technology has facili-
tated the global exchange of ideas and made the world a smaller
place, it has failed to make it a peaceful one. The last time I had
the heart to check, the world was torn by twenty-five border dis-
putes, involving some forty nations. And instant communica-
tion—that most modern of inventions—has facilitated, rather
than impeded, the rise of religious fundamentalism around the
world, in a form that demonizes nonbelievers and gleefully puts
the most up-to-date technology to medieval use. As a result, we
now live in a world where a woman can still be stoned to death
for adultery, and everyone can watch it on satellite TV.
   The world has undergone economic transformation as well.
China has embraced entrepreneurism and other forms of capi-
talism. And the European Union, once dismissed as a Utopian

                     On Becoming a Leader

pipe dream, is now a reality—so real it has eliminated the franc
and the deutsche mark and replaced them with the Esperanto of
currencies, the euro. In the United States during the last dozen
years, the New Economy emerged, soared, and crashed. During
the 1990s, it seemed as if every bright twenty-something started
his or her own e-business and saw its stock boom even before
products were marketed or profits turned. Given that this was an
economy based almost entirely on promise, the dot bomb should
have come as no surprise. But certain elements of the New
Economy are still valid in spite of the woeful state of the Nasdaq.
   The New Economy was fueled by intellectual capital, as the
economy of the twenty-first century will be. The days when a
company’s most important assets are buildings and equipment
are gone forever. Ideas are now the acknowledged engine and
currency of the global economy. For leaders, and would-be
leaders, the take-home lesson of the New Economy is that
power follows ideas, not position. Right now, the business me-
dia are filled with stories on how dispirited workers have aban-
doned the dream of early retirement as they watch their 401(k)
balances shrink quarter after quarter. In the last half of 2002,
workers are happy to have jobs, and are doing what they have
to do to keep them. But that will change. And when it does,
leaders who want their organizations to succeed will once again
have to reward, even cosset, those employees who have the best
ideas. Bad economic times allow second-rate leaders to exercise
power recklessly and with impunity. Good times will come
again, and when they do, the leaders who survive and flourish
will be those who treat the people around them, not as under-
lings, but as invaluable colleagues and collaborators.
   Just as the New Economy rose and fell, so has the imperial
leader. One of the truly dreadful trends of the 1990s was the
emergence of the celebrity CEO. Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca was

          Introduction to the Revised Edition, 2003

probably the first modern business leader whose face became as
recognizable as a film or rock star’s. Americans have always
tended to see their institutions as the lengthened shadows of
great men—a tendency that drove a genuinely collaborative
leader like John Adams to near madness—and we have tended
to reward such charismatic leaders out of proportion to their
contribution. But that tendency got completely out of hand in
the last years of the twentieth century.
   The principal indicator of how out of sync the image and real-
ity of the typical corporate leader had become was executive
compensation. No one expects successful entrepreneurs or hard-
working heads of successful companies to take a vow of poverty,
but executive compensation spun out of control in the 1990s. In
1970, a CEO in America made forty-four times as much as the
average worker. By the year 2000, the average CEO was making
more than 300 times the average worker’s salary, according to
the AFL-CIO. BusinessWeek reported in 2002 that America’s top
executives had median annual compensation of $11 million, in a
nation where the median income is around $30,000 a year.
   The most disturbing aspect of this grotesque disparity is that
it underlines the dangerous and growing gap between the 1
percent of Americans who control 50 percent of the wealth and
everyone else—namely, the vanishing middle class and a bur-
geoning underclass that lacks hope and health insurance. The
rise of the middle class was the great economic success story of
the second half of the twentieth century. The disappearance of
that middle class, made up of people who had come to believe
that loyalty and hard work would bring security and a comfort-
able standard of living, may well turn out to be the most im-
portant economic story of the new century. And unless the
current trend toward more and more wealth in fewer and fewer
hands is reversed, it could be a very grim story indeed.

                    On Becoming a Leader

   When CEOs began to make as much as tsars, they should have
known they would eventually reap the whirlwind. Instead, many
became increasingly arrogant. In 2001 and 2002, one high-flying
company after another crashed, in a spreading scandal about
accounting irregularities, illegal loans, and insider trading. The
march of shame included Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, Global
Crossing, and ImClone—some of their top executives were in-
dicted and led off in handcuffs. Most shocking of all may have
been the prospect of domestic goddess Martha Stewart facing
criminal charges for selling her ImClone stock shortly before it
was announced that its much anticipated new cancer drug would
not get FDA approval. Her downfall was anticipated with un-
seemly glee by people who joked about prison-striped wallpaper
and stenciling her cell, a case of taking-pleasure-in-the-pain-of-
others that one wag termed Marthafreude.
   Philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson used to hail friends
he had not seen for a long time with the greeting: “What’s be-
come clear to you since we last met?” One thing that has become
clearer than ever to me is that integrity is the most important
characteristic of a leader, and one that he or she must be pre-
pared to demonstrate again and again. Too many leaders—cor-
porate heads but church officials and leaders in countless other
fields as well—forgot that they were under scrutiny and that they
could be called to account at any time. They forgot that some-
thing’s being legal doesn’t mean it’s right. And they forgot that
what the public giveth, it can take away. Just ask Martha Stewart.
   The corporate scandals have had a devastating effect on the
stock market, one that is liable to persist long after the head-
lines about Enron and other rogue companies have been for-
gotten. Trillions of dollars of wealth were destroyed by men
who themselves walked away with princely severance packages.
So pervasive was the cloud over American business that Intel’s

          Introduction to the Revised Edition, 2003

former CEO Andy Grove declared: “These days I’m ashamed
I’m part of corporate America.”
    Where does this leave today’s leaders? One likely outcome
of the recent tumult is that, eventually, executive compensation
will become more modest, although CEOs are still likely to
make more in a year than the average worker will make in a
lifetime. Because workers are now stockholders, thanks largely
to those now shrunken 401(k)s, they are likely to demand more
genuine performance of their leaders in the future and to pay
them less lavishly for it. Heads of nonprofits and other large
organizations will likely receive less money and more scrutiny
as well. That will probably be a good thing. Everything we
learn about creativity suggests that money is more often an ob-
stacle to creative work than an incentive. More modestly paid
leaders might be able concentrate more fully on the intrinsic
rewards of doing good work. And they might be more likely to
recognize that their role has a moral dimension that is just as
important, in its way, as fattening the bottom line.
    My hope is that the furor will die down enough for people to
look, deeply and critically, at such vital questions as, What are
the purposes of the corporation and other organizations in to-
day’s world? The metaphor of the organization as a machine that
creates value for stakeholders is too simplistic, everyone agrees.
But what metaphors are more illuminating? I am intrigued by
the notion of the organization as a changing, responsive organ-
ism and by Charles Handy’s ideas about the organization as
community. The case for viewing a company or other organiza-
tion as a community is especially compelling in a world where
we spend more and more of our lives in the workplace and grow
ever hungrier for greater balance between work and personal
life. Even as we are shackled by our pagers and cell phones to the
workplace, we long for work that seems meaningful enough to

                    On Becoming a Leader

justify missing out on great chunks of our children’s lives. Lead-
ers of every kind of organization need to be thinking long and
hard about such issues as meaningful rewards for workers and
humanizing the downsized workplace. It would be tragic if the
recent scandals so distracted and preoccupied leaders that they
failed to address these moral and philosophical concerns. And it
would be even more tragic if the scandals were to cause business
to be perceived as an unworthy calling, just as political scandals
have so often tainted public service in the past.
   As ugly as the recent headlines have been, I think it is impor-
tant to remember that our attitudes toward leaders are cyclical.
We tend to lavish disproportionate attention and praise on
them for a time, to treat them like royalty, only to turn on them
at some point and treat them like devils. Neither extreme is
true. It is worth remembering that for every Dennis Kozlowski
(the ousted CEO of Tyco), there are hundreds, even thousands
of able, honorable business leaders. And there are good men
and women at the top in non-government organizations,
community-action groups, colleges and universities, cultural in-
stitutions, and other nonprofit organizations. These are the
people would-be leaders need to seek out and emulate.
   Let me give you just one example. I recently published a
book comparing and contrasting young and old leaders, titled
Geeks and Geezers. One of the impressive senior leaders co-
author Bob Thomas and I interviewed was Sidney Harman,
CEO of Harman International Industries. Not long ago, when
every day seemed to bring a new revelation of corporate mis-
chief, Sidney sent a message to the company’s stakeholders in
its quarterly report. He told them that the company does no
business with its mostly independent board members and out-
lined the mechanisms that are in place to ensure the integrity of
the board and the firm itself. He assured the stakeholders that

          Introduction to the Revised Edition, 2003

he would know if something were amiss because, he wrote, “I
am fully engaged in this company. I pay attention and I know
what goes on throughout it.” There is a name for that kind of
responsive, responsible behavior. It’s called leadership.
   One of the most important things that Sidney, like all great
leaders, does is to cultivate a culture of candor. I had been writ-
ing about leadership for many years before it struck me that
there was a vital aspect of any organization’s success that had
been overlooked—not great leadership, but great followership.
Sidney keeps a plaque on his desk that reads: “In every business
there is always someone who knows exactly what is going on.
That person should be fired.” Sidney’s plaque is ironic, of
course, and he is committed to listening to, even inviting, in-
formed dissent. But, in too many organizations, those who
speak unwelcome truths are fired or at least marginalized.
   One tragic example involves the Challenger explosion. On
January 28, 1989, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded
shortly after launch, killing all on board—six astronauts and the
first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe. It was the worst space
disaster in American history, made even more heartbreaking by
the presence of the crew’s families, and it need not have hap-
pened. Only the day before, Roger Boisjoly, an engineer with
NASA supplier Morton Thiokol, had warned his superiors that
there was a serious flaw in the spaceship’s O-rings. Boisjoly’s
fate was that of so many modern-day Cassandras whose well-
informed alarms are ignored. Boisjoly’s reward for his coura-
geous efforts to prevent the disaster was the end of his career.
Since then, he has made his living lecturing on whistle blowing
and other ethical issues, in large part, because he was unable to
get another job in aerospace. One hard-won bit of advice he
gives would-be whistle blowers—make sure you have another
job lined up first.

                      On Becoming a Leader

   However honorable, dissenters are rarely embraced by their
organizations. I am reminded of a recent cartoon showing an in-
dustrial titan, surrounded by his suited minions, who is barking:
“All those opposed, signify by saying, ‘I quit.’” Organizations
tend to deal harshly with those who insist upon speaking embar-
rassing truths, as Enron’s Sherron Watkins learned, as did FBI
agent and critic Colleen Rowley. And yet no one is more valu-
able to the organization than the subordinate willing to speak
truth to power. Organizations sometimes go to absurd, even im-
moral lengths to ignore bad news—the auto industry’s silence on
dangerous car and truck models is an egregious example. But
authentic leaders embrace those who speak valuable truths, how-
ever hard they are to hear. Nothing will sink a leader faster than
surrounding him- or herself with yes-men and women. Even
when principled nay-sayers are wrong, they force leaders to re-
evaluate their positions and to poke and prod their assumptions
for weaknesses. Good ideas are only made stronger by being
challenged. The subordinate who speaks truth to power needs
courage, and may pay the price for candor. But, by doing so, he
or she evinces nothing less than leadership. The willingness to
stand up to the bosses may not save the candid individual’s job,
but it will serve him or her well in another, better organization.
   That brings me to another thing I’ve learned since writing On
Becoming a Leader. Great leaders and followers are always en-
gaged in a creative collaboration. We still tend to think of leaders,
like artists, as solitary geniuses. In fact, the days when a single in-
dividual, however gifted, can solve our problems are long gone.
The problems we face today come at us so fast and are so com-
plex, that we need groups of talented people to tackle them, led
by gifted leaders, or even teams of leaders. As co-author Patricia
Ward Biederman and I write in our book, Organizing Genius: The

           Introduction to the Revised Edition, 2003

Secrets of Creative Collaboration, “The Lone Ranger is dead.” In
order to lead a Great Group, a leader need not possess all the in-
dividual skills of the group members. What he or she must have
are vision, the ability to rally the others, and integrity. Such lead-
ers also need superb curatorial and coaching skills—an eye for
talent, the ability to recognize correct choices, contagious opti-
mism, a gift for bringing out the best in others, the ability to facil-
itate communication and mediate conflict, a sense of fairness,
and, as always, the kind of authenticity and integrity that creates
trust. Nothing about the world today is simpler than it was or
slower than it was, which makes the ability to collaborate and fa-
cilitate great collaboration more vital than ever.
    Two recent events seem especially relevant to leadership today.
The first is 9/11. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Cen-
ter and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, changed American
life as profoundly as the attack on Pearl Harbor. Those of us who
think fulltime about leadership and change have long argued that
the pace of change continues to accelerate and that we must find
ways to embrace and celebrate it. But some change is hard to
love, and 9/11 is a prime example. Since the Great Depression,
the United States has been a place of growing security. No war
has been fought on American soil since the Civil War. For all its
inequality and racism, the nation has been a place of remarkable
freedom and acceptance of diversity. The attacks of 9/11 made
the United States seem far less safe. In 2002, the terrorist bomb-
ing of a night club in Bali, clearly aimed at Westerners, and a se-
ries of sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, further
eroded America’s sense of itself as a secure nation. We are still
coming to terms with 9/11, trying to find meaning in the thou-
sands of casualties, digging in its rubble for lessons that will trans-
form it into something more than a senseless catastrophe.

                     On Becoming a Leader

   One thing we know is that a more dangerous world makes
the need for leadership, in every organization, in every institu-
tion, more pressing than ever. In 2002, in the course of studying
how geeks and geezers became leaders, Bob Thomas and I dis-
covered that their leadership always emerged after some rite of
passage, often a stressful one. We call the experience that pro-
duces leaders a crucible. I once told an interviewer who asked
how I became interested in leadership, that it was impossible to
live through the 1930s and ‘40s without thinking about leader-
ship. There were giants on the earth in those days—leaders of
the stature of FDR, Churchill, and Gandhi. And there were also
men who wielded enormous power in the most horrific ways—
Hitler and Stalin—men who perverted the very essence of lead-
ership and killed millions of innocent people in the process.
The Great Depression and the battlefields of World War II
were my crucible, as they were for so many people my age.
   The crucible is an essential element in the process of becom-
ing a leader that I didn’t fully appreciate in 1989. Some magic
takes place in the crucible of leadership, whether the transforma-
tional experience is an ordeal like Mandela’s years in prison or a
relatively painless experience such as being mentored. The indi-
vidual brings certain attributes into the crucible and emerges with
new, improved leadership skills. Whatever is thrown at them,
leaders emerge from their crucibles stronger and unbroken. No
matter how cruel the testing, they become more optimistic and
more open to experience. They don’t lose hope or succumb to
bitterness. In a moment, I’ll describe some of the qualities that I
now realize are essential for leadership, although not sufficient to
ensure it. But first let me say something more about crucibles.
Leadership guru Abigail Adams was right on the mark (as she so
often was) when she wrote to son John Quincy Adams in 1780

          Introduction to the Revised Edition, 2003

that hard times are the crucible in which character and leadership
are forged: “It is not in the still calm of life or the repose of a
pacific station that great characters are formed,” she counseled.
“The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with
difficulty. Great necessities call out great virtues.” Just as World
War II forged the leaders of the second half of the twentieth cen-
tury, I predict that 9/11 and the dot-com implosion will be the
crucibles that create a whole new generation of leaders. If so, we
will have reason to celebrate as well as to mourn.
   In addition to the qualities I describe in On Becoming a
Leader, all leaders have four essential competencies. First, they
are able to engage others by creating shared meaning. They
have a vision, and they can persuade others to make that vision
their own. Hitler is a ghastly example of this ability, and a re-
minder of the under-appreciated role that rhetoric and per-
formance play in leadership. One reason that leaders are able to
promulgate their vision is because they are exquisitely attuned
to their followers and feel their pain, their wants, their needs.
Leaders, in every field, are richly endowed with empathy.
   Second, all authentic leaders have a distinctive voice. By
voice, I mean a cluster of things—a purpose, self-confidence,
and a sense of self, and the whole gestalt of abilities that,
thanks to Daniel Goleman, we now call Emotional Intelli-
gence. Voice is hard to define but terribly important. One of
the reasons cited for Al Gore’s loss of the 2000 presidential
election was his lack of voice. Those of us who know Gore are
struck by his intelligence, his decency, his vision, and his wry
sense of humor. Yet, during his campaign, the public was never
able to hear his true voice. President George W. Bush, on the
other hand, has a distinctive voice that projects a likeable, low-
key persona that even people who reject his politics respond

                      On Becoming a Leader

to. And voice matters more than ever because modern media
broadcast it everywhere.
    The third quality that all true leaders have is integrity. Recently,
we have been reminded how important integrity is because we
have perceived its lack in so many corporate leaders—the corpo-
rate weasels, as they have been called. One component of integrity
is a strong moral compass. It need not be religious faith, but it is a
powerful belief in something outside one’s self. Ralph Nader’s
commitment to consumerism is a good example. Leadership is al-
ways about character. One of my favorite observations about the
centrality of character to leadership is something David McCul-
lough said about Harry Truman, in an essay collected in the book
Character Above All. “Character counts in the presidency more
than any other single quality,” McCullough writes. “It is more im-
portant than how much the President knows of foreign policy or
economics, or even of politics. When the chips are down—and
the chips are almost always down in the presidency—how do you
decide? Which way do you go? What kind of courage is called
upon? Talking of his hero Andrew Jackson, Truman once said, ‘It
takes one kind of courage to face a duelist, but it’s nothing like the
courage it takes to tell a friend, No.’”
    But the one competence that I now realize is absolutely es-
sential for leaders—the key competence—is adaptive capacity.
Adaptive capacity is what allows leaders to respond quickly
and intelligently to relentless change. A whole new decision-
making process has evolved in the last thirteen years in re-
sponse to a changed context. As psychologist Karl Weick so
eloquently writes, leaders of the old school could rely on maps.
The leaders of today’s digital age, whose world is never still or
quite in focus, must depend on compasses. Weick explains:
“Maps, by definition, can help only in known worlds—worlds

          Introduction to the Revised Edition, 2003

that have been charted before. Compasses are helpful when
you are not sure where you are and can get only a general sense
of direction.” Adaptive capacity allows today’s leaders to act,
and then to evaluate the results of their actions, instead of rely-
ing on the traditional decision-making model, which calls for
collecting and analyzing the data, then acting. Today’s leaders
know that speed is of the essence, and that they must often act
before all the data are in. They must assess the results of their
actions, correct their course, and quickly act again.
    Adaptive capacity is made up of many things, including re-
silience or what psychologists call “hardiness.” People who are
able to act quickly and appropriately are all “first-class no-
ticers,” as novelist Saul Bellow describes one of his characters.
Adaptive capacity is a kind of creativity. And adaptive capacity
also encompasses the ability to identify and seize opportunities.
As I have watched hundreds of people become leaders over the
years, I have been struck again and again by how effectively
some people are able to recruit the mentors they need. I realize
that one of my own gifts as a younger man was the ability to
find and somehow woo great teachers. This ability is more
complex and more important than mere networking. It is noth-
ing less than the ability to spot the handful of people who can
make all the difference in your life and to get them on your
side. I have seen the process from the mentor’s side over the
last few decades, and I am always struck by the art with which
some talented younger people draw me into their lives, make
me care about them, and make me want to help them in any
way I can. That ability is essential to becoming a leader. And it
is a success strategy that other primates seem to adopt as well as
people. In studying male baboons, Stanford University neuro-
scientist Robert Sapolsky found that the difference between

                     On Becoming a Leader

living a long life and dying early often came down to the ability
of some older males to recruit younger, stronger males to pro-
tect them. Mentoring is much more than a career strategy. It is
a reciprocal dance that benefits both parties.
    In talking to successful geezers, I am always dazzled by their
adaptive capacity. I am surer now than ever that the process of
becoming a leader is the same process that makes a person a
healthy, fully integrated human being. And it is the same
process that allows one to age successfully. When I think of
adaptive capacity I think of such serial leaders as Arthur Levitt,
Jr., former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Arthur’s adaptive capacity has allowed him to reinvent himself
time after time. As I write this, he has a book about Wall Street
and corporate America on the best-seller list, and he is much
sought after as a critic of the way America has done business in
recent years. Time has only made him a more distinguished
leader and burnished his remarkable ability to adapt and grow.
    Timeless leadership is always about character, and it is always
about authenticity. Let me underscore the observation made by
pioneering psychologist William James about authenticity. “I
have often thought,” he wrote, “that the best way to define a
man’s character is to seek out the particular mental or moral at-
titude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most
deeply and intensively active and alive. At such moments, there
is a voice inside which speaks and says, ‘This is the real me.’”
    In 1989 I urged you to discover and cultivate that authentic
self, the part of you that is most alive, the part that is most you.
Now, as then, finding and nurturing that authentic self is the
one sure way of becoming a leader.

                         to the Original
                          Edition, 1989

For decades, I’ve devoted the bulk of my time to the study of
leadership. An integral part of that study was observation of
and interviews with some of this country’s leading men and
women. My first report on the subject was published as Leaders
(Harper & Row, 1985, co-authored with Burt Nanus). Sud-
denly, I was a ranking authority. When anyone anywhere had a
question about leadership, he or she inevitably wound up on
my doorstep. I say this with as much chagrin as pride, since I
didn’t by any means have all the answers.
   The study of leadership isn’t nearly as exact as, say, the study
of chemistry. For one thing, the social world isn’t nearly as or-
derly as the physical world, nor is it as susceptible to rules. For
another, people, unlike solids, fluids, and gases, are anything
but uniform and anything but predictable. Having been a
teacher and student all of my adult life, I am as leery as anyone
of the idea of leaping to conclusions, or making more of evi-
dence than is demonstrably true. So I have been forced, again
and again, to qualify my answers. People wanted The Truth,

                     On Becoming a Leader

and I was giving them opinions. To an extent, leadership is like
beauty: it’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it.
    I still don’t have all the answers, but in the years since the
publication of Leaders, I’ve learned much more about leader-
ship. So here is my second report. Leaders covered the whats.
On Becoming a Leader is the hows: how people become leaders,
how they lead, and how organizations encourage or stifle po-
tential leaders.
    But since leadership, by definition, cannot take place in a
vacuum, I’ve begun with the current context—the myriad
forces that conspire against would-be leaders. Everyone de-
plores the alleged lack of leadership in America today, and the
blame usually lands at the feet of the individual who hasn’t
made the grade. Greed, timidity, and lack of vision are rampant
among the current crop of pseudo-leaders. Certainly, no mat-
ter how many genuine leaders there are in this country—and I
know there are many, because I’ve met them and talked with
them—we could use more, particularly at the national level.
But our shortcomings as individuals are symptomatic of a
much larger problem.
    If it is fair to say that all too often our leading citizens seem
incapable of taking control of their various domains, it is even
fairer to add that the world itself is out of control. The changes
in the last generation have been so radical that it seems even in
business as if the world plays soccer while America plays foot-
ball. It’s not just that the rules changed—it’s a different game.
    For this reason, before people can learn to lead, they must
learn something about this strange new world. Indeed, anyone
who does not master this mercurial context will be mastered by
it. Plenty of people have prevailed, including the leaders you
will meet in these pages. They range all over the map in back-

          Introduction to the Original Edition, 1989

ground, experience, and vocation, but they have in common a
passion for the promises of life and the ability to express them-
selves fully and freely. As you will see, full, free self-expression
is the essence of leadership. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said,
“The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.”
   On Becoming a Leader is based on the assumption that leaders
are people who are able to express themselves fully. By this I
mean that they know who they are, what their strengths and
weaknesses are, and how to fully deploy their strengths
and compensate for their weaknesses. They also know what
they want, why they want it, and how to communicate what
they want to others, in order to gain their cooperation and
support. Finally, they know how to achieve their goals. The key
to full self-expression is understanding one’s self and the world,
and the key to understanding is learning—from one’s own life
and experience.
   Becoming a leader isn’t easy, just as becoming a doctor or a
poet isn’t easy, and those who claim otherwise are fooling them-
selves. But learning to lead is a lot easier than most of us think it
is, because each of us contains the capacity for leadership. In
fact, almost every one of us can point to some leadership experi-
ence. Maybe the experience wasn’t running a company, or gov-
erning a state, but as Harlan Cleveland wrote in The Knowledge

  The aristocracy of achievement is numerous and pervasive. . . .
  They may be leaders in politics or business or agriculture or labor
  or law or education or journalism or religion or affirmative action
  or community housing, or any policy issue from abortion to the
  municipal zoo. . . . Their writ may run to community affairs, to
  national decisions or global issues, to a whole multinational

                      On Becoming a Leader

  industry or profession or to a narrower but deeper slice of life and
  work: a single firm, a local agency, or a neighborhood.

   He might have added a classroom to that list. Whatever
your leadership experience, it’s a good place to start.
   In fact, the process of becoming a leader is much the same as
the process of becoming an integrated human being. For the
leader, as for any integrated person, life itself is the career. Dis-
cussing the process in terms of “leaders” is merely a way of
making it concrete.
   Braque, the French painter, once said, “The only thing that
matters in art can’t be explained.” The same might be said of
leadership. But leadership, like art, can be demonstrated. And I
am still as fascinated by observing and listening to some of this
country’s most distinguished leaders as I was when I started
studying leadership decades ago. Like everyone else, these par-
ticular men and women are the sum of all their experiences.
Unlike most people, however, each of them amounts to more
than the sum, because they have made more of their experi-
ences. These are originals, not copies.
   My paradigm, then, is leaders, not theories about leaders, and
leaders functioning in the real world, rather than in some artifi-
cial setting. I deliberately chose people who are not only accom-
plished, but multitalented: a writer who’s a CEO, a scientist who
heads a foundation, a lawyer who served in the cabinet, a young
man who’s on his third career. They are all people whose lives
have made a difference—thoughtful, articulate, and reflective.
   Because I would argue that our culture is currently domi-
nated and shaped by business, almost a third of this group of
leaders are in business. (To those of you who would argue that
it is shaped by the media I would answer—as legendary tele-

         Introduction to the Original Edition, 1989

vision producer Norman Lear does—that even television is
shaped by business.) Some head leading American companies,
others run their own companies. There are also leaders in the
media and the arts here, people who’ve traded business careers
for nonprofit enterprises, a sports figure, academics, a writer-
psychoanalyst, lawyers, the aforementioned scientist, and Betty
Friedan, the housewife-turned-author-and-feminist-leader
who inspired a revolution. As you may have noticed, I’ve ex-
cluded politicians, because candid politicians are in very short
supply, and I was more interested in ideas than in ideology.
    These leaders are by no means ordinary people. They work
out there on the frontier where tomorrow is taking shape, and
they serve here as guides—guides to things as they are and as
they will be, or scouts reporting back with word from the front.
As diverse as they are in terms of background, age, occupations,
and accomplishments, they are in accord on two basic points.
    First, they all agree that leaders are made, not born, and
made more by themselves than by any external means. Second,
they agree that no leader sets out to be a leader per se, but
rather to express him- or herself freely and fully. That is, lead-
ers have no interest in proving themselves, but an abiding in-
terest in expressing themselves. The difference is crucial, for
it’s the difference between being driven, as too many people are
today, and leading, as too few people do.
    Something else they have in common is that each of these
individuals has continued to grow and develop throughout life.
This is in the best tradition of leadership—people such as
George Bernard Shaw, Charles Darwin, Katharine Hepburn,
Martin Luther, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jean Piaget are a few ex-
amples that spring immediately to mind. Winston Churchill is
said to have jaywalked through life until he was 66.

                     On Becoming a Leader

    So one of the things this book is about is adult learning.
Most psychologists have virtually nothing to say about mental
life, learning and growing, in our adult years. For whatever
reasons, we tend to associate creative behavior and learning
with the young. I think it’s a matter of socialization that we
don’t think of the old (post–45, perhaps) as learners. Certainly,
if we look at enough examples of “grown-up” learning, from
Churchill to Picasso to Beethoven—to Freud, even—we must
think again about our assumptions.
    Because we are still questioning the assumptions, there are no
theories. But the best information we have suggests that adults
learn best when they take charge of their own learning. Taking
charge of your own learning is a part of taking charge of your
life, which is sine qua non in becoming an integrated person.
    But of all the characteristics that distinguished the individu-
als in this book, the most pivotal was a concern with a guiding
purpose, an overarching vision. They were more than goal-
directed. As Karl Wallenda said, “Walking the tightwire is liv-
ing; everything else is waiting.” Along with the vision, the
compelling goal, is the importance of the metaphor that em-
bodies and implements the vision. For Darwin, the fecund
metaphor was a branching tree of evolution on which he could
trace the rise and fate of various species. William James viewed
mental processes as a stream, or river. John Locke focused on
the falconer, whose release of a bird symbolized his “own
emerging view of the creative process”—that is, the quest for
human knowledge. None of the metaphors from this group
may be quite that profound, but they serve the same purpose.
    Thomas Carlyle said, “The ideal is in thyself; the impedi-
ment, too, is in thyself.” As we learned from Socrates and
Plato, such impediments can be dissolved by close scrutiny

           Introduction to the Original Edition, 1989

and the right questions at the right time. Each of these leaders
seems to have overcome whatever impediments he or she con-
tained, and in my dialogues with them (they were not inter-
views in the ordinary sense) we searched not for pat answers to
standard questions, but for some truths about leadership. In a
sense, we did together what each of them had already done in-
dividually in the process of finding his or her own means of
full self-expression.
   Plato argued that learning is basically recovery or recollec-
tion—that in the same way bears and lions instinctively know
everything they need to know to live and merely do it, each of
us does, too. But in our case, what we need to know gets lost in
what we are told we should know. So learning is simply a mat-
ter of remembering what is important. As Jung said, psycho-
analysis is less a form of healing than a form of learning.
   So we already know what we need to know, but each of us
must recover that basic knowledge, and such recovery in-
evitably begins with questions. I had some questions in mind as
I started each dialogue:

   •   What do you believe are the qualities of leadership?
   •   What experiences were vital to your development?
   •   What were the turning points in your life?
   •   What role has failure played in your life?
   •   How do you learn?
   •   Are there people in your life, or in general, whom you
       particularly admire?
   •   What can organizations do to encourage or stifle leaders?

   Basic as these questions are, they generated wide-ranging,
free-wheeling answers, which, in turn, led to an exploration of

                    On Becoming a Leader

my fundamental concerns: how people learn, how they learn
to lead, and how organizations help or hinder the process—
or, to put it succinctly, how people become leaders.
   We like to think that if someone has the right stuff, he or she
will naturally rise to the top, in the way that cream rises to the
top of the milk bottle—or used to when we had milk bottles,
and before we removed the cream. But it isn’t true. The late
Stella Adler, once a famous actress and later a famous acting
teacher, refused to discuss her former students who had be-
come stars. She said that she had so many equally talented stu-
dents who didn’t become stars for one reason or another,
whether lack of motivation or bad luck, and she didn’t want to
risk hurting them by her comments. In the same way that act-
ing talent doesn’t guarantee stardom, the capacity for leader-
ship doesn’t guarantee that one will run a corporation or a
government. In fact, in the current win-or-die context, people
of extraordinary promise often have more difficulty fulfilling
their promise than people of more docile character, because, at
least in our time, genuine achievement can be less valued than
simplistic success, and those who are skilled at achieving
prominence are not necessarily those who are ready to lead
once they arrive.
   Although I have said that everyone has the capacity for lead-
ership, I do not believe that everyone will become a leader, es-
pecially in the confusing and often antagonistic context in
which we now live. Too many people are mere products of
their context, lacking the will to change, to develop their po-
tential. I also believe, however, that everyone, of whatever age
and circumstance, is capable of self-transformation. Becoming
the kind of person who is a leader is the ultimate act of free
will, and if you have the will, this is the way.

          Introduction to the Original Edition, 1989

   Since the transformation is a process, On Becoming a Leader
is a story of that process rather than a series of discrete lessons.
As a modern story, it has no beginning, middle, or end. But it
has many recurring themes—the need for education, both for-
mal and informal; the need to unlearn so that you can learn (or,
as Satchel Paige is supposed to have said, “It’s not what you
don’t know that hurts you, it’s what you know that just ain’t
so”); the need for reflecting on learning, so that the meaning of
the lesson is understood; the need to take risks, make mistakes;
and the need for competence, for mastery of the task at hand.
   I know—this book has more leitmotifs than a Wagnerian
opera. But I warned you this was a complex business. And not
only do the themes recur, but they overlap. For example, the
story Sydney Pollack tells about directing Barbra Streisand that
appears in chapter five, “Operating on Instinct,” also illustrates
risk taking and reflection. After you’ve finished reading the
book the first time, you may want to browse through it again.
At least, I hope you will.
   At bottom, becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming
yourself. It’s precisely that simple, and it’s also that difficult. So
let’s get started.

Cast of Characters
I’ve always liked the Russian novelists’ custom of listing their
characters in advance of the story. Herewith, then, the cast of
characters in On Becoming a Leader, in alphabetical order. Their
updated biographies appear at the end of the book.

  Herb Alpert and Gil Freisen, longtime partners in A&M
  Gloria Anderson, newspaper editor and executive

                On Becoming a Leader

Anne Bryant, former executive director of the American
  Association of University Women, now executive director
  of the National School Boards Association
James Burke, former chairman and CEO, Johnson & Johnson
Barbara Corday, former television executive, now chair of
  the division of film and TV production in the University
  of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television
Horace Deets, retired executive director, AARP, now an
  advisor to the organization
Robert Dockson, former chairman and CEO, CalFed
Richard Ferry, former president and co-founder, Korn/Ferry
Betty Friedan, author and co-founder of the National Or-
  ganization for Women
Alfred Gottschalk, president emeritus, Hebrew Union College
Roger Gould, psychoanalyst and author
Frances Hesselbein, former executive director, Girl Scouts
  of America, and author
Shirley Hufstedler, lawyer, former judge, and former U.S.
  secretary of education
Edward C. Johnson III, CEO, Fidelity Investments
Martin Kaplan, former Walt Disney executive, now a re-
  search professor at the USC Annenberg School for Com-
Brooke Knapp, record-setting aviator and entrepreneur
Mathilde Krim, scientist and AIDS activist
Norman Lear, television writer-producer and first-amendment
Michael McGee, former athletic director, University of
  Southern California and the University of South Carolina

      Introduction to the Original Edition, 1989

Sydney Pollack, Oscar-winning motion picture director and
Jamie Raskin, former Massachuetts assistant attorney gen-
  eral, now law professor and Maryland state senator
Don Ritchey, former CEO, Lucky Stores
Richard Schubert, former CEO, American Red Cross
John Sculley, former CEO, Apple Computers, now a ven-
  ture capitalist
Gloria Steinem, writer, activist, founding editor, Ms.
Clifton R. Wharton, Jr., former chairman and CEO, Teach-
  ers Insurance and Annuity Association, College Retirement
  Equities Fund
Larry Wilson, entrepreneur, founder and former CEO,
  Wilson Learning Corporation
Renn Zaphiropoulos, founder, Versatec, and former Xerox

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         Mastering the Context
           Leaders have a significant role in creating the state of mind that
         is the society. They can serve as symbols of the moral unity of the
        society. They can express the values that hold the society together.
             Most important, they can conceive and articulate goals that lift
             people out of their petty preoccupations, carry them above the
              conflicts that tear a society apart, and unite them in pursuit of
                                       objectives worthy of their best efforts.

                                            —John W. Gardner
                                               No Easy Victories

In November 1987, Time asked in a cover story, “Who’s in
Charge?” and answered its own question, saying, “The nation
calls for leadership, and there is no one home.” A recent
Google search on “lack of leadership” produced more than
53.3 million hits (up from 27,000 five years ago), many laments
on the dearth of leaders in world organizations, nations, states,
religious organizations, corporations, nonprofit organizations,
professions, education, health care, sports, and virtually every
other human endeavor.

                     On Becoming a Leader

   The world’s hunger for leadership has been growing for
years. There is no doubt that a charismatic new leader took the
world stage on November 4, 2008, with the election of Barack
Obama as president of the United States. On the night of his
victory, millions of Americans wept with pride in their country
and relief that he had triumphed over old prejudices. Watching
on television, children cheered in the Indonesian grade school
the president-elect had attended as a child. Brits raised pints in
countless pubs, and Kenyans danced with Obama’s relatives in
the village where his father was born. But Barack Obama’s
presidency is in its earliest days, and what we have now is the
hope that he will become one of the giants.
   One result of Barack Obama’s extraordinary election is to
remind us of just how thin our leadership bench is. Most of
the leaders we once revered are gone. FDR, who challenged a
nation to rise above fear, is gone. Churchill, who demanded
and got blood, sweat, and tears, is gone. Schweitzer, who in-
spired mankind with a reverence for life from the jungles of
Lambaréné, is gone. Einstein, who gave us a sense of unity in
infinity, of cosmic harmony, is gone. Gandhi, the Kennedys,
Martin Luther King, Jr.—all were slain.
   The stage is littered with flawed and disappointing leaders.
Ronald Reagan, the “Teflon president,” was stained by the
Iran-contra disaster and other scandals. Bill Clinton was
dogged by rumors of personal indiscretion even before he took
office and was impeached (and acquitted), the first elected U.S.
President to be censured in so spectacular a fashion.
   Unlike the 2008 election, the 2000 presidential contest was
notable less for the contrast of the candidates than for the roller-
coaster ride of the process, which ended in George W. Bush
being declared the winner, in spite of his trailing Al Gore by a

                    Mastering the Context

half-million popular votes. The election was decided, for the
first time in American history, by the Supreme Court, leading to
an unprecedented diminution, in the minds of many, of a body
once thought to be above partisan politics. And while President
Bush responded forcefully, if belatedly, to the terrorist attacks
of 9/11, his administration quickly devolved into a string of
disasters—the unwarranted, protracted war in Iraq; the shame-
ful symbolism of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prisons; the
bungled rescue of hurricane-battered New Orleans; the outing
of C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame; the unprecedented politicization
of the Justice Department; and not one but two economic
crises. The 2008 meltdown was the worst since the Great De-
pression. Stocks plunged almost 1,000 points in a single day,
and 1.2 million American jobs vanished in the first ten months
of the year.
   If political leaders disappointed us, corporate leaders proved
even worse. As evidence emerged of greed and wrongdoing at
such once-esteemed institutions as Lehman Brothers and major
banks, the public and the media called for new leadership and
greater regulation. Without drawing much attention to them-
selves, capable people continued to keep our institutions afloat—
able university presidents, city managers, state governors, heads
of non-government organizations, and others. But we increas-
ingly perceived authentic leaders to be an endangered species,
buffeted by events and circumstances over which they seemed to
have little or no control.
   A scientist at the University of Michigan once listed what
he considered to be the ten basic dangers to our society. First
and most significant is the possibility of some kind of nuclear
war or accident that would destroy the human race. The sec-
ond danger is the prospect of a worldwide epidemic, disease,

                    On Becoming a Leader

famine, or depression. The third of the scientist’s key prob-
lems that could bring about the destruction of society is the
quality of the management and leadership of our institutions.
   Today we must add global warming, the widening gap be-
tween rich and poor, and international terrorism to that list of
major dangers. But the relative lack of leadership continues to
be an enormous threat. The simple truth is that 304 million
people cannot long abide together without leaders, any more
than 304 million people can drive on our roads and highways
without certain rules, or eleven men can play football without a
quarterback, or four people can hike from X to Y unless at least
one knows where Y is.
   One person can live on a desert island without leadership.
Two people, if they’re totally compatible, could probably get
along and even progress. If there are three or more, someone
has to take the lead. Today we have a more nuanced view of
leadership. We no longer think in terms of the Lone Ranger or
the Great Man. But no matter how collaborative our organiza-
tions, someone still needs to choreograph the players and make
final decisions. Leadership might rotate among the three in-
habitants on a desert island, as it does in three-engineer teams
at Google, but leadership is needed nonetheless.
   So let’s admit it: in a nation, in a world, as complex and fluid
as ours, we cannot function without leaders. Our quality of life
depends on the quality of our leaders (as the sorry economy of
2008 reminded us so painfully). And we need more than one. As
never before, we need leaders in all our organizations and all
our institutions. We need leaders in every community, corpora-
tion, and country. That leadership vacuum creates an enormous
opportunity. If you’ve ever had dreams of leadership, this is the
place, now is the time.

                    Mastering the Context

   There are three basic reasons why leaders are important.
First, they are responsible for the effectiveness of organiza-
tions. The success or failure of all organizations, whether bas-
ketball teams, community-action groups, moviemakers, makers
of video games, auto manufacturers, or lending institutions,
rests on the quality of their decision makers. Stock prices rise
and fall according to the public perception of how good the
leader is. But, just as important, the leader is responsible for
who is hired, the organization’s goals and aspirations, working
conditions, who has authority over whom, morale, allocation of
resources, transparency, and ethical standards.
   Second, the change and upheaval of the past years has left us
with no place to hide. We need anchors and guides. The very
best of our leaders serve in that way. They inspire us and restore
our hope.
   Third, there is a pervasive national concern about the in-
tegrity of our institutions. It is hard to imagine that there was
once a time when Wall Street was a place where a man’s word
was his bond (until Muriel Siebert bought a seat on the New
York Stock Exchange, there were few women on Wall Street).
Its reputation tarnished in the 1980s by the white-collar crimes
of Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken, and others, Wall Street was
gravely damaged in the first years of the twenty-first century by
the greed and double-dealing of a series of CEOs who received
imperial compensation even as they bilked both shareholders
and their own employees.
   Starting with the discovery that the energy firm Enron en-
dorsed bookkeeping practices that would have embarrassed Al
Capone, the nation watched as once trumpeted corporate lead-
ers did the perp walk, led in handcuffs from their homes as TV
cameras rolled. In quick succession, criminal charges were

                   On Becoming a Leader

brought against top executives at Tyco International, ImClone
Systems, and Adelphia Communications. WorldCom, Global
Crossing, and other former stars of the New Economy tum-
bled into bankruptcy amidst allegations of fiscal improprieties.
A cry immediately went up for the wholesale reform of corpo-
rate boards, accounting practices, executive recruitment, and
employee retirement plans, a call for sweeping change in how
America does business unlike any since the Great Depression.
   These scandals were especially troubling to all of us who
have been engaged for decades now in training future leaders.
Business schools responded quickly to the debacle by adding
cautionary case studies of Enron and ImClone to their curric-
ula and beefing up ethics courses. But, clearly, not everyone
learned the lessons on transparency, accountability, and fair
play contained in these case studies and reform-minded
courses. If they had, there would have been no subprime mort-
gage crisis of 2008, which shook world markets and left the
American public with a $700-billion tab.
   And American business was not the only institution that
showed itself to be gravely flawed. The Roman Catholic
Church in the United States experienced an unprecedented
series of scandals involving the molestation of children and
young adults by priests. The revelation that some priests be-
trayed and abused children was shocking in its own right. But
almost as disturbing was the revelation that members of the
Catholic hierarchy had known of the abuse and covered it up,
often by reassigning dangerous priests to new parishes where
they molested anew. No major American institution seemed
unblemished, including the prestigious Ivy League. In 2002,
Princeton University staff hacked into admissions records at

                    Mastering the Context

Yale, apparently to gain information that would help it steal
top applicants away from its rival.
   Scandal also touched government agencies. Where was the
Central Intelligence Agency, the public demanded to know,
when terrorists with expired visas were taking lessons at Ameri-
can flight schools in order to crash into the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon? Where was the C.I.A., for that matter, when
two of its agents spied for years for Moscow? And the Federal
Bureau of Investigation didn’t fare any better. It, too, failed to
prevent the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the deadly mailing of
anthrax-laden letters that followed. Perhaps most shocking was
the failure of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or
FEMA, to provide services for the mostly poor minority resi-
dents who remained in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Bodies floated in the flooded streets for days, while clueless
public officials congratulated each other on a job well done.
   We see these things, and we lament them, but what do we do
about them? What can we do about them, caught up as we are
in the context of our own professional and personal lives? For
the most part, our lives are busier and more demanding than
those of any generation in recent history. Thanks to ubiquitous
cell phones and other forms of instant communication, we are
tied to our workplaces as never before, immersed in a context
that is volatile, turbulent, ambiguous, and all but impossible to
escape. That we often feel oppressed by that context is evident
from the desperation with which so many people dream of sim-
plifying their lives. But we must master that context if we are to
solve our own problems, let alone societal ones, and to do that
we must first examine it. Unfortunately, looking at our own
context is as difficult for us as it is for fish to look at water.

                    On Becoming a Leader

   Everything’s in motion. Digital technology and international
competition are altering the shape and thrust of American busi-
ness. Changing demographics and the ability to use new tech-
nology to identify and serve slices of the population are altering
the marketplace where, increasingly, the niche is all. Certain
venerable industries, such as print journalism, teeter on the
verge of extinction, while new “green” businesses open every
day. We now live and work in the global village that Marshall
McLuhan predicted. In the European Union, national borders
no longer confine workers. In recent years, Eastern Europeans
poured into newly wealthy, high-tech Ireland. When the Irish
economy sagged, Poles working in Ireland returned to their
own reinvigorated economy. The economy of the United States
is also in flux. Just as millions of blue-collar jobs went overseas
in recent decades, more and more white-collar jobs are being
exported. Using the Internet, a couple can save money on their
nuptials in Des Moines by hiring a wedding planner in Banga-
lore. Aided by their fluency in English, now the universal
language of business, professionals in Southeast Asia read
American X-rays and vet American contracts. Instant commu-
nication and digitally enabled social networking are changing
the political as well as the economic map. Markets are freer
everywhere, and so are people, as the Internet magnifies voices
of dissent in such authoritarian nations as Myanmar and Iran.
   While mergers and acquisitions continue to create interna-
tional megacorporations, small, agile companies now generate
more new jobs than big traditional industries. Today, Google,
Pixar, and other idea-driven firms that know the worth of their
creative talent get first pick of top-notch new graduates. The
once-dominant Big Three television networks are now owned
or controlled by large corporations, and all three are scrambling

                    Mastering the Context

to keep market share in a growing field of rivals. Cable net-
works such as HBO and Showtime produce much of the best
original programming. And more and more viewers get their
news from such alternative sources as CNN, Fox (on the right),
MSNBC (on the left), and Comedy Central, home of two of
today’s most trusted and unlikely newscasters, Jon Stewart and
Stephen Colbert. Thanks to Tivo and other means of record-
ing programs for later viewing, people watch their favorite
shows whenever they choose, and only the masochistic need to
sit through commercials, a development that threatens the very
economic basis of commercial TV.
    Deregulation changed the airline industry forever, giving
birth to new cut-rate airlines and driving Pan Am and other ven-
erable carriers out of business. But the use of airplanes as flying
megabombs in the 2001 terrorists attacks was a devastating blow
to the airline industry, and the Draconian tightening of security
procedures afterward made flying less attractive than ever. In
2008, soaring gas prices caused airlines to raise ticket prices,
trim schedules, and impose fuel surcharges and bag-checking
fees. To avoid burgeoning travel costs, more and more compa-
nies turned to new videoconferencing technology, putting even
more financial pressure on the troubled airline industry.
    America’s aging population is changing its economy—indeed
its culture—in ways that are only beginning to be felt. American
demographics are shifting in other ways. Latinos have an in-
creasingly powerful voice in American life, as evidenced by the
significant role Latino voters played in the election of Barack
Obama. Globalization is shaping American life at every turn.
American business once owned the American market and much
of the European market as well. Today publishing and other
sectors of the American economy are largely European-owned,

                     On Becoming a Leader

a trend that is likely to continue as the European Union begins
to exercise its true collective clout. European nations will in-
creasingly do business with each other, thanks to the elimina-
tion of internal trade barriers and the increased use of an almost
universal currency, the euro. China would have a major impact
on the United States if only because it holds trillions of dollars
of American debt. But China impacts us in many ways. Once
primarily an exporting nation, China is now a billion-person
market for the rest of the world’s goods. Its rapid modernization
has caused global shortages of concrete and steel. And China,
India, and other ascendant giants are the great unknowns in the
life-and-death question of whether the world will find a way to
balance the conflicting needs for growth and limiting green-
houses gasses. One result of these global changes is that Wall
Street, once the only player, is now one among many financial
centers, one subject to such unpredictable forces as overseas
investors, currency fluctuations, and an American public that
increasingly mistrusts what the Street says and does.
    The new order is so insane that it’s hard to satirize, but for-
mer Salomon Smith Barney analyst Julius Maldutis captured
the madness some years ago when he said: “I have it on good
authority that Delta is buying Eastern, Eastern is buying Pan
Am. Pan Am is really going after United now that it has all of
United’s cash, and American’s Bob Crandall, who has been
devilishly silent all along, is getting ready to make a tender
offer for the whole industry once he reaches an agreement
with his pilots. Furthermore, I spoke to Frank Lorenzo this
morning, and he assured me that his next targets are Peru and
Bolivia, which he plans to merge into the first low-cost coun-
try.” That two of those airlines are long gone only under-
scores the point.

                    Mastering the Context

   The business world has undergone a series of sea changes in
recent decades. Remember the futurist speculation that was all
the rage forty years ago? Despite the flurry of prognostication,
no one foresaw the profound impact Japan would have, for a
time, on the American economy. For much of the 1980s,
Japan—a clutch of distant, overcrowded islands with no basic
resources, devastated by World War II and once renowned for
producing junk—caused America to have an economic identity
crisis. We began to question our vaunted know-how, our con-
viction that we are the most creative nation on earth—birth-
place of such practical geniuses as Edison and Ford—and our
claim to the most robust and successful business practices.
There were days when we felt that the Japanese did everything
better than we did, from designing appealing new automobiles
to finding new ways to guarantee quality. Japan soon bested us
in manufacturing and marketing what we used to think of as ba-
sic American goods, not just cars, but TV sets, even steel. It was
only a vicious recession in Japan, and the wholesale adoption of
the best Japanese practices by our own firms, that allowed us to
forget the sense we once had of being humiliated by Japanese
economic superiority.
   In the twenty-first century it is impossible to predict where
the next great economic shift will come from. China, India,
Russia, even tiny but wealthy Dubai are emerging forces.
Most economists believe we are entering a period of slower
growth throughout the developed world. And what of the
Middle East? Americans are hopeful that our troops will leave
Iraq in the near future. But the whole world is nervously
watching Iran, a vocal enemy of Israel with nuclear ambitions.
The emergence of a particularly violent form of Islamic fun-
damentalism that uses modern technology to cause chaos in

                    On Becoming a Leader

the westernized world continues to shape global politics, and
peace in the Middle East is as elusive as ever.
   As the late John Gardner pointed out, when the Founding
Fathers gathered in Philadelphia to write the Constitution,
America had a population of only 3 million, yet six world-class
leaders were among the authors of that extraordinary docu-
ment. Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Adams, and
Franklin created America. Today, there are 304 million Ameri-
cans and we wonder, every four years, why we can’t find at least
two superb candidates for the nation’s highest office.
   What happened?
   As eighteenth-century America was notable for its geniuses,
nineteenth-century America was notable for its adventurers,
entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists, and writers, the titans who
made the industrial revolution, the explorers who opened up
the West, the writers who defined us as a nation and a people.
Thomas Edison, Eli Whitney, Alexander Graham Bell, Lewis
and Clark, Hawthorne, Melville, Dickinson, Whitman, and
Twain. These men and women whose vision matched their au-
dacity built America.
   Twentieth-century America started to build on the promise
of the nineteenth, but something went terribly wrong. After
World War II, America was chiefly notable for its bureaucrats
and managers, its organization men, its wheeler-dealers who
remade, and in some cases unmade, the institutions and orga-
nizations of America, in both the public and private sectors.
   There have been bright spots, including the rise of the civil
rights movement and extraordinary American accomplishments
in science and technology. But even though we emerged from
World War II as the richest and most powerful nation on earth,

                     Mastering the Context

by the mid–1970s, America had lost its edge. America lost its
edge because it lost its way. We forgot what we were here for.
   The rebellion of the 1960s, the Me Decade that followed,
the yuppies of the 1980s, and the subsequent rise of Wall
Street’s Gordon Gekkos with their philosophy that greed is
good are all consequences of the mistakes and crudities of the
organization men. Unable to find America’s head or heart,
many of its citizens seem to have declared their independence
from it and from each other.
   While the 1960s saw the birth of such important contribu-
tions to our country as the civil rights movement and the
women’s movement, too many of its so-called breakthroughs
became breakdowns. We talked about freedom and democracy,
but we sometimes practiced license and anarchy. People were
often not as interested in new ideas as they were in recipes and
slogans. Gurus Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers told us we
could create our own reality, and we did, with everyone insist-
ing on having it his or her way.
   There has always been a tension in the American character
between individual rights and the common good. While we’ve
loved and admired John Wayne striking out on his own with
just a horse and a rifle, we’ve also known that the wagon train
couldn’t make it across the plains unless we all stuck together.
That tension is as fierce today as it has ever been. Whenever
upward mobility and good citizenship diverge, we have less and
less in common, and less and less that is good.
   Our Founding Fathers based the Constitution on the assump-
tion that there was such a thing as public virtue. James Madison
wrote, “The public good . . . the real welfare of the great body of
people . . . is the supreme object to be pursued.”

                    On Becoming a Leader

   But in the early 1920s, when Calvin Coolidge said, “The
business of America is business,” hardly anyone disagreed. The
idea of public virtue had been overtaken by special interests,
which today are often replaced by individual concerns. Some in
America have devolved into what Robert Bellah and his co-
authors describe in their book, Habits of the Heart, as “a permis-
sive, therapeutic culture . . . which urges a strenuous effort to
make our particular segment of life a small world of its own.”
   Battered by the economic uncertainty of the last decade,
many people have retreated into their electronic castles, work-
ing at home and communicating with the world via computers
and cell phones. They mediate their human contacts through
their personal digital assistants, ordering movies from Netflix
and reheating take-out Thai in the microwave. Some would
rather Instant Message than speak. Some prefer virtual reality
to what lies outside the front door. A few spend so much time
romancing other people’s avatars in Second Life that their
spouses call their divorce lawyers. Many have two kinds of
friends—the ones they actually know and the ones ostenta-
tiously listed on their Facebook page. Cocooning has entered
the digital age.
   The United States stock market has imploded twice in this
young century, erasing trillions of dollars of wealth in the
process. But the gap between the rich and the poor in the
United States remains dangerously wide. The American middle
class, which once trusted in its future because of swollen 401(k)s
and soaring home equity, has been devastated by the recent
crash. Growing numbers of have-nots and have-too-littles
worry daily about the skyrocketing cost of health care, ignoring
symptoms and splitting pills. Afraid of another Great Depres-
sion, some Americans cling to jobs they hate, fearful that their

                    Mastering the Context

children won’t be able to afford college. Meanwhile, certain so-
cial and environmental problems continue to haunt us. Poverty
and drug addiction perpetuate an American underclass that fills
our prisons to overflowing, and the oceans continue to rise.
   For a time, our economic worries were overshadowed by the
national trauma of 9/11, which caused virtually all Americans to
look at their lives and reconsider their priorities. The wrench-
ing accounts of doomed men and women calling their loved
ones from the Twin Towers to say good-bye were seared into
the nation’s consciousness. So were the images of ordinary peo-
ple whose control over their lives had been reduced, through no
fault of their own, to the decision of whether to be immolated
or jump a hundred stories to an equally certain death.
   For the first time in decades, Americans seemed to see them-
selves as one nation, a single people united in their commitment
to democratic principles. Unfortunately, the genuine sense of
unity that emerged after the attacks did not lessen the nation’s
sense of alienation from many of its institutions. There was mis-
trust, in many quarters, of a government increasingly martial in
tone and eager to eliminate, at whatever cost, “an axis of evil”
embodied in Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Many Americans were in-
creasingly estranged from national leaders who seemed to use
terrorism as an excuse for hacking away at Constitutional pro-
tections. As Abigail Adams said, great suffering often engenders
great leadership, but pain does not guarantee it. And, after 9/11,
many Americans were left longing for leadership, as well as for a
time, not so long ago, when terrorism was as rare in America as
hunger. Yes, the nation had shared a tragedy, but that suffering
did not produce a common vision of what the United States
should be and how to achieve it. And we seemed to lack leaders
of sufficient stature to give us that vision.

                     On Becoming a Leader

   This, then, was the context, at least until the election in
2008 of a young president promising change and renewed
hope. What those geniuses created in Philadelphia in the eigh-
teenth century and their rowdy successors embellished in the
nineteenth century, uninspired leaders and passive followers, in
both government and business, too often turned into a giant
machine, its wheels spinning frantically in the mud, going
   Like the outsized American cars of the Eisenhower era,
America often seems too big and too awkward to work very
well, much less respond quickly and wisely to events. This be-
came painfully evident in the wake of 9/11 when Americans
discovered, to their shock and dismay, that our security appara-
tus was vast but dangerously inefficient. It seems that the F.B.I.
had been collecting information as assiduously as ever but
hadn’t bothered to update its computer networks so that infor-
mation could be shared, analyzed, and acted upon quickly and
effectively. The C.I.A. had failed to reinvent itself after the fall
of the Soviet Union and had failed to anticipate new threats
that would require new foreign language skills and other capa-
bilities. The security agencies had a history of turf wars, not
cooperation. And even when crucial information was flowing,
it could be blocked by a single preoccupied supervisor or one
with his or her own agenda. Combine those systemic flaws with
an arrogant belief that the unimaginable couldn’t happen here,
and disaster was inevitable.
   But authentic leaders are able to analyze the context and
transcend it. Always an innovator, television producer/writer
Norman Lear has enjoyed astonishing success—financially as
well as creatively. When I talked with him, we discussed not
only his life and his work, but also his concern with what he

                    Mastering the Context

described as “the societal disease of our time”—short-term
thinking: “It’s asking what the poll is saying, not what’s great
for the country and what’s best for the future, but what do I
say in the short term to get me from here to there.” And that
national obsession with the short term has come directly from
business. Lear continued, “Joseph Campbell once said that in
medieval times, as you approached the city, your eye was taken
by the cathedral. Today it’s the towers of commerce. It’s busi-
ness, business, business, and in an escalating fashion it has got-
ten more short-term oriented. . . . You know, they’re not
funding the real iconoclasts today, not funding the innovators,
because that’s risky—that’s long-term investment.”
   I think Lear is absolutely right. American business has be-
come the principal shaper and mover in contemporary Amer-
ica—even more so than television—and has, in an odd irony, by
zealously practicing what it preaches, sandbagged itself. Hav-
ing captured the heart and mind of the nation with its siren
songs of instant gratification, it has locked itself into obsolete
practices. Before the flameout of the New Economy and the
equally spectacular fall from grace of the American CEO, cor-
porate leaders had achieved a popularity such as they had never
experienced before in history. But even as we fawned over these
corporate superstars, we failed to ask a crucial question: How
much genuine leadership was being practiced inside even the
most successful companies?
   How many of those we believed to be leaders were really
corporate Wizards of Oz, their perceived abilities as illusory as
their cooked books?
   Richard Ferry, former president and co-founder of the re-
cruiting firm of Korn/Ferry International, spoke to the problem
of short-term thinking two decades ago and his observations are

                    On Becoming a Leader

just as relevant today: “Corporate America may talk, on an in-
tellectual level, about what it’ll take to succeed in the twenty-
first century, but when it gets right down to decision making, all
that matters is the next quarterly earnings report. That’s what’s
driving much of the system. With that mind-set, everything else
becomes secondary to the ability to deliver the next quarterly
earnings push-up. We’re on a treadmill. The reward system in
this country is geared to the short term.”
   Our addiction to the short term gave us freeze-frame shots
of a changing world, preventing us from seeing that it was
shrinking, heating up, growing rancorous and ambitious—not
just politically, but socially and economically. Just as our fore-
bears challenged British rule, China, Japan, and Korea, virtu-
ally all of Europe, Scandinavia, and Australia have challenged
American corporate rule—even as the Arab nations began to
take back their oil. These upstarts are beating us at our own
game, manufacturing and marketing. Japan, above all, saw that
the marketplace was the real battlefield and that trade was not
only the ultimate weapon, but the source of true national secu-
rity. The Soviet Union’s recognition that trade trumps ideol-
ogy led to its inevitable dismantling and accounts for the eager
self-interest with which the Czech Republic and other former
Soviet countries sought inclusion in the European Union.
   Perhaps because they’re centuries older than we are, and
therefore more sophisticated and wiser, our friends in Asia and
Europe know that political regimes come and go, and ideolo-
gies wax and wane, but—human nature being what it is—our
basic needs are economic, not political.
   Some in America are still addicted to the quick fix and the
fast buck. They haven’t yet realized that the new bottom line is
that there is no bottom line—there aren’t any lines, much less

                    Mastering the Context

limits or logic. Life on this turbulent, complex planet is no
longer linear and sequential, one thing logically leading to an-
other. It is spontaneous, contrary, unexpected, and ambiguous.
Things do not happen according to plan, and they are not re-
ducible to tidy models. We persist in grasping at neat, simple
answers, when we should be questioning everything.
   Wallace Stevens, a renowned poet who was also vice presi-
dent of an insurance company, put it nicely in his poem, “Six
Significant Landscapes”:

          Rationalists, wearing square hats,
          Think, in square rooms,
          Looking at the floor,
          Looking at the ceiling.
          They confine themselves
          To right-angled triangles.
          If they tried rhomboids,
          Cones, waving lines, ellipses—
          As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon—
          Rationalists would wear sombreros.

It’s time for America to trade in its square hat on a sombrero,
or a beret, and consider this new context.
    And as Norman Lear put it, “One person can matter . . . a
citizen can matter in this country.”
    Today, the opportunities for leaders are boundless, but so are
the challenges. Our best and brightest are as smart, innovative,
and capable as any generation of leaders has ever been, but the
route to the top is more arduous and trickier than it has ever
been, and the top itself is more slippery and more treacherous
than Everest ever was. But reaching the top is not the only

                    On Becoming a Leader

goal. Today’s leaders often reinvent themselves periodically in
order to scale new mountains.
   We sometimes feel that we are at least halfway through the
looking glass, on our way to utter chaos. And though the
context is highly volatile, it’s not apt to change in any funda-
mental way as long as the principal players are driven by it, are
swimming through it like fish blind to the water. To put it an-
other way, the current climate is self-perpetuating because it
has created an entire generation of managers in its own image.
   As we have discovered recently, too many CEOs became
bosses, not leaders, and it is the bosses who have gotten
America into its current fix. Ironically, they are as much prod-
ucts of the context as today’s corporate scandals are. They are
perfect expressions of the context, driven, driving, but going
   The first step in becoming a leader, then, is to recognize the
context for what it is—a breaker, not a maker; a trap, not a
launching pad; an end, not a beginning—and declare your in-


Having described the context, I’m tempted to skip a step and go
right to the people who beat it. Success is more fun than fail-
ure—to write about as well as to live. Besides, everyone knows
people who didn’t get what they wanted out of life. But learning
from failure is one of the most important themes in this book,
one that we’ll return to again and again, so I think we need to
look at one case, one individual who didn’t make it out of the
quagmire, and some of the reasons why. I’ll call him Ed.

                    Mastering the Context

   Ed was born of working-class parents in Brooklyn, New
York. Smart, ambitious, determined to succeed, he went to
work in a factory right out of high school and enrolled in night
school. Working day and night, he managed to take a degree in
accounting. He moved off the factory floor and into manage-
ment with the same manufacturing firm. In a few short years,
he fought his way up the ladder, passing some MBAs on the
way. He proved himself to be not only hard-working and ag-
gressive, but a talented nuts-and-bolts man. Efficient, compe-
tent, and tough, he eventually was made a vice president.
   Ed was a company man. Everyone said so. He not only
knew how everything worked, he was capable of making it
work better, and when necessary, he didn’t mind yanking out
the deadwood. He was not an easy man to work for, but he was
just the kind of man his bosses liked (that he and most of the
other executives in the firm were male surprised no one). He
was 100 percent loyal to the company, a workaholic, always
willing and eager to go that extra mile, and impatient with any-
one who was less devoted than he.
   Ed’s competence, combined with his drive and toughness,
made him an ideal executive in the win-or-die 1980s and ’90s.
To look at him or see him in action, no one would have ever
guessed that he grew up poor on the streets of south Brooklyn,
or that he was a night school product.
   In fact, he’d nearly forgotten it himself. He looked, dressed,
and talked like his bosses. He had an attractive, devoted wife
who looked, dressed, and talked like his bosses’ wives. He had
two handsome, well-behaved sons, a nice house in Westchester,
a wicked serve, and great prospects—if he wanted to move.
The president of the company was in his early 50s, Ed’s age,
and apparently happy with his position.

                   On Becoming a Leader

   About the time Ed began getting restless, a family-owned
firm in the same industry was looking for new blood. The
CEO, the grandson of the founder, was thinking of retirement,
and there was no one to whom he could hand the reins. He
wanted to bring someone in as a vice president, get to know
him, and if all went well, turn over the firm to him within two
or three years. Although the firm was based in Minneapolis,
the executive search firm found Ed in New York. Ed saw the
move to Minneapolis as his shortcut to the top.
   He handled the job-hop as efficiently as he handled every-
thing else. He moved his family into a bigger and better house
in Edina, moved himself into a big corner office with a view of
a lake, and seemed to adjust to the slower Midwestern rhythm
without missing a beat.
   But he was, if anything, tougher than before, coming down
harder than ever on people who failed to please him. The
more-relaxed Minnesotans in the office made fun of him pri-
vately, nicknamed him “the Brooklyn Bomber,” but when he
said jump, they jumped.
   After Ed had been in Minneapolis about a year, Baxter, the
CEO, took him to lunch and offered him the COO spot. Ed
was pleased, but not surprised. No one worked harder than he
did, no one could have learned more about the company than
he had, and no one deserved it more. The sky was the limit
for the Bomber now. Baxter and Ed were a great team. Baxter,
genial and encouraging, steered the company, while Ed,
tougher than ever, took care of the nuts and bolts. And the
dirty work.
   Baxter decided that Ed was indeed the fellow to replace him
when he retired, and he announced the decision to the fam-
ily—who were also the board of directors. For the first time in

                    Mastering the Context

his life, Ed ran into something he couldn’t tough his way
through. Some members of the family board told Baxter that
Ed was too tough, too rough on his fellow executives. They
would not approve his appointment unless he improved his
“people skills.”
    Baxter gave Ed the bad news. If Ed was disturbed—and he
was—so was the CEO. Baxter was ready to retire, and, further,
he’d chosen Ed as his successor and begun to groom him for
the job. Now his orderly plan had fallen apart. At this point
Baxter called a friend who recommended that he hire me as a
consultant. After outlining his dilemma, he asked me if I’d
work with Ed to help him improve his people skills. He said Ed
was willing to do whatever it took to secure the CEO slot.
    After a lot of conversation and thought, I agreed. Although I
had certain reservations, it was an interesting task, and I had
enough other business taking me to Minneapolis that it didn’t
mean rearranging my life drastically. Still, I wondered whether
anyone could effect what amounted to a basic personality
change in a 55-year-old man.
    On my next trip to Minneapolis, I met Ed. I spent a couple of
days shadowing him, watching everything he did and how he did
it. On the following trip, I interviewed everyone who worked
with Ed and asked him to take a series of personality tests.
    Everyone was, of course, operating out of self-interest. Anx-
ious to retire, Baxter wanted his successor in place ASAP. The
recalcitrant board members wanted a way out of this difficult
situation, which I would have to give them, whether I suc-
ceeded or failed in working a change in Ed. Ed, who was never
anything but cooperative, wanted the job.
    After a while, it became clear to me that everything every-
one said about Ed was true. He was very competent and very

                    On Becoming a Leader

ambitious, but he was also a tyrant. He was impulsive and
frequently abusive of people who worked for him. They would
actually cower in his presence. He had a desperate need to
control both people and events. He was incapable of thanking
anyone for a job well done—he couldn’t even give a compliment.
And, of course, he was a sexist.
   Ed tackled his problem the way he tackled everything else—
at full speed and with all of his resources. In the course of my
work with him, he became easier to get along with. He man-
aged to smooth away his rougher edges. He became less abra-
sive, more polite, as he fine-tuned himself in the same way he
fine-tuned the company. That was the good news.
   The bad news was that, for all Ed’s effort, the people who
worked with him continued to be wary of him. They just didn’t
trust the “new” Ed. And the board remained divided. The
members who liked the “old” Ed and his no-nonsense, bottom-
line philosophy were somewhat thrown by his new, milder de-
meanor, while the ones who had originally blocked Ed’s
ascendance now found new flaws. They argued that, for all his
drive and competence, he lacked both vision and character.
   Believing that character is as vital in a leader as drive and
competence, I had to agree with them. And character was
something I couldn’t help Ed find—he would have to do that
on his own. As I’ve said before, it is not enough for a leader to
do things right; he must do the right thing. Furthermore, a
leader without some vision of where he wants to take his or-
ganization is not a leader. I had no doubt that Ed could run the
company. I had grave doubts about where he might take it.
   After telling Ed that, while I was impressed with his progress,
I could not recommend him for CEO, I filed my report with
Baxter and the board. Baxter, I discovered, was actually relieved.

                     Mastering the Context

While he had needed someone like Ed to help him run the
business, he had known that the board was right: the business
that had been in the family for three generations was on the
line, and they simply couldn’t turn it over to Ed. Baxter stayed
on and Ed stayed in place until another successor for Baxter was
found. Baxter then retired, and Ed resigned.
   If this had been a movie, of course, Ed would have turned
into Jimmy Stewart by the last reel and gotten the job. But real
life doesn’t work like the movies, and heroes and villains aren’t
as easy to spot.
   In fact, I don’t think Ed was either a hero or a villain. He was
a victim, a man who saw himself as self-made, but who in fact
had patterned himself after the wrong models in the wrong
corporate culture.
   He came into the business world as a tough street kid, a boy
from the wrong side of the tracks who was determined to make
good. He was ambitious and industrious. But ultimately he was
just another product of the prevailing climate. Whatever char-
acter or vision he might have had atrophied along the way.
   Ed might have learned to lead. Certainly, when he started
work in the factory, he had a passion for the promises of life. But
then he went through the looking glass into a dog-eat-dog world
where people were rewarded not for expressing themselves but
for proving themselves. In proving himself an ideal servant of
the system, Ed never fully deployed himself—he allowed himself
to be deployed by his employer. Himself driven, he drove others,
becoming the pluperfect boss. He couldn’t adjust to a new cor-
porate climate where vision and character were important.
   When I sorted it out afterward, I realized that there were ac-
tually five things that the board was interested in: technical
competence (which Ed had), people skills, conceptual skills

                     On Becoming a Leader

(meaning imagination and creativity), judgment and taste, and
character. It wasn’t just the people skills, as they had originally
told me. So even when he worked hard to improve in that area,
he simply could not get people on his side. They questioned his
judgment and his character. And they felt that they couldn’t
trust him.
   Since this is the era of failing upward, Ed is now chairman
and CEO of a prominent Atlanta manufacturing firm. He was
credited by its search committee not only with his own nuts-
and-bolts successes, but with all of Baxter’s achievements,
too—including the creation of new products and maintaining a
reputation for service and quality that are admired in the in-
dustry. Unfortunately, when Ed tightens all the nuts-and-bolts
in Atlanta, but fails to generate new products or revenues, he
may find the context unforgiving—unless he learns from his
failure and he chooses to begin the arduous process of becom-
ing himself. I haven’t been able to find out, because he won’t
return my phone calls.
   We all know “Eds”—in fact, they tend to be more the rule
than the exception. But as you will see, people can and do over-
turn the rules and overcome the context and succeed in ways
that the Eds can only imagine.


The leader I’ve picked to underscore the reasons why Ed didn’t
make the grade is Norman Lear.
  He broke into TV during its so-called golden age as a com-
edy writer for such shows as “The Colgate Comedy Hour,”
“The George Gobel Show,” and “The Martha Raye Show,”

                    Mastering the Context

which he also directed. In 1959, Lear and Bud Yorkin founded
Tandem Productions, which produced and packaged TV spe-
cials with such stars as Fred Astaire, Jack Benny, Danny Kaye,
Carol Channing, and Henry Fonda. Tandem produced a num-
ber of theatrical feature films, too, including Come Blow Your
Horn, The Night They Raided Minsky’s, Start the Revolution With-
out Me, and Cold Turkey. Lear’s original screenplay Divorce:
American Style earned an Academy Award nomination in 1967.
By any definition, Lear was a success, but in 1971, he and Tan-
dem took a giant step upward with the premiere of the land-
mark TV series “All in the Family.” That series, featuring the
unforgettable Archie Bunker, and the various series that fol-
lowed—“Sanford and Son,” “Maude,” “The Jeffersons,” “One
Day at a Time,” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”—revo-
lutionized television and gave America a funny but acute look
at itself.
   The brilliant writer Paddy Chayefsky said, “Norman Lear
took television away from the dopey wives and dumb fathers,
from the pimps, hookers, hustlers, private eyes, junkies, cow-
boys and rustlers that constituted television chaos, and in their
place he put the American people . . . he took the audience and
put them on the set.”
   More than anyone else, Lear caused TV to grow up. Not
only were his shows hits, they were not afraid to be controver-
sial, focusing on such then taboo issues as abortion and preju-
dice. But no one wanted “All in the Family” in the beginning. It
was turned down by ABC, reluctantly aired by CBS, and hardly
watched at all for a while. Fortunately, CBS stuck with it. And
Lear not only mastered the context, he revolutionized it.
   In each of eleven consecutive seasons, 1971–1982, at least one
Lear situation comedy placed in the top ten of all prime-time

                    On Becoming a Leader

programs. In 1974–1975, five of the top ten shows were Lear’s.
In November 1986, five of the top nine off-network sitcoms in
syndication were his. Nearly 60 percent of Lear’s pilots have sold
as series, which is twice the industry average. More than a third
of all his network series went on to become hits in syndication,
three times the industry average.
   Lear’s career, consistently characterized by innovation and
risk, proves the efficacy of both, for Lear is not only a creative
phenomenon but a financial wizard as well. But when the Writ-
ers Guild of America went on strike in March 1988, this man
who revolutionized an industry, this multimillionaire, this
communications pioneer and leader, walked the picket lines
with his fellow writers and loved it.
   Lear has performed brilliantly as a writer, a producer, a
businessman, and a citizen-activist (he is co-founder of Peo-
ple for the American Way, a foundation devoted to civil rights
and liberties). His counsel continues to be sought by presi-
dential candidates and other politicians. And he continues to
contribute to American public life in other ways. In 2000, he
and Internet entrepreneur David Hayden, paid a record $7.4
million for the original copy of the Declaration of Independ-
ence and announced plans to make it available to the public.
Lear also donated more than $5 million to establish a multidis-
ciplinary center at the University of Southern California for the
study of the implications of “the convergence of entertainment,
commerce and society.” The Norman Lear Center conducts
academic research and shapes public policy.
   Lear’s story is the American Dream made manifest, a plot
straight out of Horatio Alger, except that he didn’t marry the
boss’s daughter. Starting with nothing, he has become very, very
rich and very, very famous, and very, very powerful. Indeed, his

                      Mastering the Context

life is the stuff of which TV shows and movies are made. His
accomplishments prove, beyond a doubt, the efficacy of full
   There are four steps in the process behind Norman Lear’s
success in mastering the context: (1) becoming self-expressive;
(2) listening to the inner voice; (3) learning from the right
mentors; and (4) giving oneself over to a guiding vision.
   These steps are all illustrated in the story he told me of how
he was profoundly influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay
“Self-Reliance” in high school: “Emerson talks about listening
to that inner voice and going with it, against all voices to the
contrary. I don’t know when I started to understand that there
was something divine about that inner voice. . . . To go with
that—which I confess I don’t do all of the time—is the purest,
truest thing we have. And when we forgo our own thoughts
and opinions, they end up coming back to us from the mouths
of others. They come back with an alien majesty. . . . So the les-
son is, you believe it. When I’ve been most effective, I’ve listened to
that inner voice.”
   Listening to the inner voice—trusting the inner voice—is
one of the most important lessons of leadership. I think it’s so
important that I’ve devoted the bulk of one chapter to it later
in this book.
   Lear spoke, too, of other influential people in his life. “My
grandfather was the person who taught me very early on that
you can matter. I lived with him between the ages of 9 and 12.
He was an inveterate letter writer. And I was a captive audience
for every one of those letters. ‘My dearest, darling, Mr. Presi-
dent, don’t you listen to them when they say such-and-such
and so-and-so.’ Or if he disagreed with the President, it was
‘My dearest, darling, Mr. President, you should never have done

                     On Becoming a Leader

such-and-such.’ I ran down the four flights of stairs to the brass
mailbox to pick up the mail each day. Every once in a while my
91⁄2-, 10-, 11-year-old heart would miss a beat because there was
a little white envelope that said White House on it. I couldn’t
get over it. The White House was writing to him.
    “My father was a guy who had bits and pieces of paper in his
pockets and in the brim of his hat, and that’s how he managed
things. He was always into more than he could handle, because
he was never organized. So I guess inversely he taught me the
need to be prepared and keep both feet on the ground. He was
a man who knew he was going to have a million dollars in two
weeks, and of course he never made it. But he never stopped
believing. He leaned into life, like M. Hulot, bent in with head
tilting, the stride strong.”
    Like his father the rascal, the son has never stopped believ-
ing, and he, too, leans into life. He told me, “First and foremost,
find out what it is you’re about, and be that. Be what you are,
and don’t lose it. . . . It’s very hard to be who we are, because it
doesn’t seem to be what anyone wants.” But, of course, as Lear
has demonstrated, it’s the only way to truly fly.
    Norman Lear had a guiding vision, a belief in himself, a
belief that he could make a difference. And that vision al-
lowed him to master the context in television, an arena in
which producers traditionally survive by being like everybody
else, by coming up with a clone of last season’s hit, by playing
to the lowest common denominator with the least objection-
able programming. Lear not only made it to the top and
stayed there for two decades—and this in an industry in
which five years is considered a career—he did it by produc-
ing original shows, shows that stood out in bright colors next
to their pale competitors. He was there for others to point to,

                     Mastering the Context

when a new show didn’t become a hit right away. Thanks to
Lear’s success, other worthy shows were given a second
chance: It is no exaggeration to say that television would not
now be airing such highly touted, groundbreaking shows as
“30 Rock,” “Entourage,” and “Dexter,” if it were not for Nor-
man Lear and “All in the Family.”
   Of course, Lear resides at the extreme. He is the creator of
his circumstances and surroundings in a way that few of us are
able to match. But there are Norman Lears in all walks of life
who master the context wherever they are. And leaders have al-
ways fought the context. Mathilde Krim, the scientist who has
long been a leader in the fight on AIDS, said, “I have little tol-
erance for institutional restraints. Institutions should serve
people, but unfortunately it’s often the other way around. Peo-
ple give their allegiance to an institution, and they become
prisoners of habits, practices, and rules that make them ulti-
mately ineffectual.”
   If most of us, like Ed, are creatures of our context, prisoners
of the habits, practices, and rules that make us ineffectual, it is
from the Norman Lears, the people who not only challenge
and conquer the context but who change it in fundamental
ways, that we must learn. The first step toward change is to re-
fuse to be deployed by others and to choose to deploy yourself.
Thus the process begins.

This page intentionally left blank
                                 the Basics
                        As we survey the path leadership theory has taken, we
                  spot the wreckage of “trait theory,” the “great man” theory,
                   and the “situationist” critique, leadership styles, functional
               leadership, and, finally, leaderless leadership, to say nothing of
             bureaucratic leadership, charismatic leadership, group-centered
              leadership, reality-centered leadership, leadership by objective,
                    and so on. The dialectic and reversals of emphases in this
                         area very nearly rival the tortuous twists and turns of
                    child-rearing practices, and one can paraphrase Gertrude
                             Stein by saying, ‘a leader is a follower is a leader.’

                               —Administrative Science Quarterly

Leaders come in every size, shape, and disposition—short, tall,
neat, sloppy, young, old, male, and female. Nevertheless, they
all seem to share some, if not all, of the following ingredients:

   •   The first basic ingredient of leadership is a guiding vision.
       The leader has a clear idea of what he or she wants to
       do—professionally and personally—and the strength to
       persist in the face of setbacks, even failures. Unless you

                   On Becoming a Leader

    know where you’re going, and why, you cannot possibly
    get there. That guiding purpose, that vision, was well il-
    lustrated by Norman Lear.
•   The second basic ingredient of leadership is passion—the
    underlying passion for the promises of life, combined with
    a very particular passion for a vocation, a profession, a
    course of action. The leader loves what he or she does and
    loves doing it. Tolstoy said that hopes are the dreams of
    the waking man. Without hope, we cannot survive, much
    less progress. The leader who communicates passion gives
    hope and inspiration to other people. This ingredient
    tends to come up with different spins on it—sometimes it
    appears as enthusiasm, especially in chapter eight, “Get-
    ting People on Your Side.”
•   The next basic ingredient of leadership is integrity. I think
    there are three essential parts of integrity: self-knowledge,
    candor, and maturity.
       “Know thyself,” was the inscription over the Oracle at
    Delphi. And it is still the most difficult task any of us
    faces. But until you truly know yourself, strengths and
    weaknesses, know what you want to do and why you want
    to do it, you cannot succeed in any but the most super-
    ficial sense of the word. Leaders never lie to themselves,
    especially about themselves, know their faults as well as
    their assets, and deal with them directly. You are your own
    raw material. When you know what you consist of and
    what you want to make of it, then you can invent yourself.
       Candor is the key to self-knowledge. Candor is based in
    honesty of thought and action, a steadfast devotion to
    principle, and a fundamental soundness and wholeness. An
    architect who designs a Bauhaus glass box with a Victorian

                     Understanding the Basics

       cupola lacks professional integrity, as does any person who
       trims his or her principles—or even ideas—to please. Like
       Lillian Hellman, the leader cannot cut his or her con-
       science to fit this year’s fashions.
          Maturity is important to a leader because leading is not
       simply showing the way or issuing orders. Every leader
       needs to have experienced and grown through following—
       learning to be dedicated, observant, capable of working
       with and learning from others, never servile, always truth-
       ful. Having located these qualities in themselves, leaders
       can encourage them in others.
   •   Integrity is the basis of trust, which is not as much an ingre-
       dient of leadership as it is a product. It is the one quality
       that cannot be acquired, but must be earned. It is given by
       co-workers and followers, and without it, the leader can’t
       function. I’ll talk about trust in greater detail in chapter
       eight, “Getting People on Your Side.”
   •   Two more basic ingredients of leadership are curiosity and
       daring. Leaders wonder about everything, want to learn as
       much as they can, are willing to take risks, experiment, try
       new things. They do not worry about failure, but embrace
       errors, knowing they will learn from them. Learning from
       adversity is another theme that comes up again and again
       in this book, often with different spins. In fact, that could
       be said of each of the basic ingredients.

   Even though I talk about basic ingredients, I’m not talking
about traits that you’re born with and can’t change. As countless
deposed kings and hapless heirs to great fortunes can attest, true
leaders are not born, but made, and usually self-made. Leaders
invent themselves. They are not, by the way, made in a single

                    On Becoming a Leader

weekend seminar, as many of the leadership-theory spokesmen
claim. I’ve come to think of that one as the microwave theory:
pop in Mr. or Ms. Average and out pops McLeader in sixty
   Billions of dollars are spent annually by and on would-be
leaders. Many major corporations offer leadership develop-
ment courses. And corporate America has nevertheless lost its
lead in the world market. I would argue that more leaders have
been made by accident, circumstance, sheer grit, or will than
have been made by all the leadership courses put together.
Leadership courses can only teach skills. They can’t teach
character or vision—and indeed they don’t even try. Develop-
ing character and vision is the way leaders invent themselves.
   The Great Depression was the crucible in which Franklin
D. Roosevelt was transformed from politician to leader. Harry
Truman became president when FDR died, but it was sheer
grit that made him a leader. Dwight Eisenhower, the nation’s
only five-star general, was underestimated by Republican party
bosses who saw only his winning smile. He turned out to be his
own man, and a leader. Pols like Chicago’s mayor Richard Da-
ley gave John Kennedy a boost into the White House, but he
shone there on his own. Like them or not, FDR, Truman, Ike,
and JFK were all true leaders.
   Truman never saw himself as a leader and was probably as
surprised as anyone else when he became president. Eisen-
hower was a good soldier blessed with a constellation of better
soldiers who made both his military and political victories pos-
sible. Those charming rich boys Roosevelt and Kennedy were,
in the vernacular of the time, traitors to their class, but heroes
to the people. Each of these men was his own invention: Tru-
man and Eisenhower, the quintessential small-town boys rising

                  Understanding the Basics

to the top; Roosevelt and Kennedy, driven by ambitious and
powerful parents, worldly but conventional, remaking them-
selves and their worlds.
   Being self-made is, of course, not all of it. Lyndon Johnson,
Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter could be described as self-
made men, but they failed to win our hearts or engage our
minds, and finally failed as national leaders.
   All three were highly competent, but their ambitions over-
rode their talent. Johnson set out to make a Great Society, but
made a bad war instead. Nixon wanted less to lead us than to
rule us. It was never clear what Carter wanted, besides the
White House. In each case, their minds seemed to be closed—
to us, at least, and perhaps to themselves as well. Whatever vi-
sion each may have had went unexpressed (or in Johnson’s case
unfulfilled). Each was given to saying one thing and doing
another, and each seemed to look on the American people as
adversaries. When we questioned the Vietnam War, Johnson
questioned our loyalty. Nixon had an enemies list. And Carter
accused us of malingering.
   As presidents, Johnson, Nixon, and Carter were all more
driven than driving, and each seemed trapped in his own
shadows. They were haunted men, shaped more by their early
deprivations than by their later successes. They did not, then,
invent themselves. They were made—and unmade—by their
own histories.
   When Henry Kissinger was asked what he had learned
from the presidents he had worked with—a list that started
with Kennedy, through whom he met Truman—Kissinger
replied, “Presidents don’t do great things by dwelling on their
limitations, but by focusing on their possibilities.” They leave
the past behind them and turn toward the future.

                    On Becoming a Leader

   Just as Roosevelt and Kennedy made themselves new, and
therefore independent and free, Johnson and Nixon were used
goods, no matter how far they got from their pinched begin-
nings, no matter how high they rose. Roosevelt, Truman,
Eisenhower, and Kennedy invented themselves and then in-
vented the future. Johnson and Nixon were made by their
pasts. They imposed those mean lessons of their pasts on the
present, enshrouding the future. Good leaders engage the
world. Bad leaders entrap it, or try.
   Jimmy Carter, who never managed to put a distinctive stamp
on his one-term presidency, was able to reinvent himself as an
international peace-maker. His 1980 re-election doomed as
long as American hostages remained in Iran, he continued to
be shaped out of office by his passionate Christianity. But his
unshakeable convictions were a far better fit with a career as an
almost saintly ambassador of peace than with the office of pres-
ident of the United States. Carter became an inspiring symbol
of what a former president, or any person who has attained and
lost great power, can achieve. With wife Rosalynn ever at his
side, Carter builds homes for the poor with Habitat for Hu-
manity. And whenever Carter feels he is needed, he jets off to
far-flung trouble spots to monitor elections and insure human
rights. Some see his efforts as naive. Many more see them as
evidence of authentic moral leadership, for which he received
the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
   In the years since Carter left office in 1981, we have had self-
made men in the White House (Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton)
and American aristocrats (George Herbert Walker Bush and his
son George W. Bush). The first Hollywood president, former
actor Reagan proved that leadership is, to an extraordinary de-
gree, a performance art. He earned his reputation as “the Teflon

                   Understanding the Basics

president” largely because of his winning manner even when
faced with the Iran-contra scandal and a stock market plunge,
on October 19, 1987, inevitably attributed to Reaganomics.
Whether Reagan’s affable sincerity was genuine, we will never
know. But he was a model of successful self-invention who pro-
jected authenticity and a lack of pretense that made him one of
the most popular presidents in recent history.
   The senior George Bush was an American Brahmin on a
more modest scale than FDR or JFK. With Reagan, he was the
last of our presidents to have been forged in the crucible of
World War II, in which he served as a very young and much
decorated pilot. Bush received some of the highest acceptance
ratings in polling history during his campaign against Iraq’s
Saddam Hussein, Desert Storm. And it was on Bush’s watch
that the Soviet Union—the “Evil Empire,” as Reagan called
it—dissolved in 1991. But Bush was ultimately undone by his
inability to distance himself from his aristocratic roots. Con-
stantly reminded by the brilliant, relentless coalition that put
Clinton in the White House in 1992, the American public
never forgot the image of Bush staring in wonder at an elec-
tronic supermarket scanner. The voting public may forgive you
for going to Choate, but it will never forgive you for not know-
ing how the other half shops.
   An orphan raised by an alcoholic step-father, President Clin-
ton was brilliantly self-made, a man who was swept into office in
1992 by making voters believe in a place called Hope, the
stranger-than-fiction name of his Arkansas birthplace. Clinton
had the intelligence, the charm, the ability to find common
ground—everything he needed to be one of the greatest presi-
dents in history. Everything, that is, except the strong moral
compass that all great leaders have. Clinton’s case is tragic in the

                     On Becoming a Leader

classical sense, that of a hero brought down by his own fatal
flaw. Hounded throughout his two terms by Conservative op-
ponents with Javert-like tenacity, Clinton still managed to pre-
side over a period of prosperity, fueled by the soaring New
Economy, unmatched in modern American history. He was ulti-
mately impeached on, and acquitted of, charges that included
perjuring himself about a dalliance with White House intern
Monica Lewinsky.
   Clinton’s ability to recover from setbacks during his years in
Arkansas politics won him the nickname “The Come-Back Kid.”
Time will tell if Clinton is able to re-invent himself out of office,
as Carter did. Certainly Clinton has the talent and the drive to
do so. Whether he has the requisite integrity—a quality that
transcends traditional notions of propriety—remains to be seen.
   It is still early in the process of determining what went wrong
with the two-term presidency of George W. Bush. The psycho-
analytically inclined tend to look for answers in the younger
Bush’s ambivalent feelings toward his powerful father. But no
amount of armchair psychiatry can account for the speed with
which Bush 43 managed to create an American presidency of
unprecedented opacity and disdain for some of the nation’s
most cherished principles. When W. first took office, there was
hope that he would undergo a Shakespearean transformation
and grow into the presidency—that he would evolve from a fun-
loving, Texas-style Prince Hal into an American Henry V. It was
not to be, and the nation suffered mightily for it.
   Like Clinton, W. represented a new generation of leaders
whose crucible was not World War II but the more ambiguous
proving-ground of the 1960s and early ’70s, with their sex, drugs,
rock ‘n’ roll, and mistrust of authority. The history-making
election of Barack Obama marks another profound generational
change. Conservative commentator David Brooks points out

                   Understanding the Basics

that Obama “is a child of a child of the 1960s.” Brooks calls
Obama’s post-baby-boomer cohort the “temperate generation.”
It is also the first generation to grow up wired. Time will tell if
Obama is a truly transformational figure. But in his sober, stir-
ring victory speech, he made it clear that he will be president of
all Americans as well as a citizen of the world. He promised a
collaborative administration that would include Republicans.
And he spoke of the need for sacrifice as the country faces its
many challenges. A steady, deliberative leader whose mantra
was “yes we can,” Obama galvanized young voters as no presi-
dent had since JFK, and it is likely that Obama’s example will
inspire many to enter public life. As Missouri senator Claire
McCaskill observed, while the votes were still being counted:
“Another generation of leaders was born in this election.”
   The Greeks believed that excellence was based on a perfect
balance of eros and logos, or feeling and thought, which to-
gether allow us to understand the world on all levels, from “the
concrete contemplation of the complete facts.” True under-
standing derives from engagement and from the full deploy-
ment of ourselves. As John Gardner once said, talent is one
thing, while its triumphant expression is another. Only when
we are fully deployed are we capable of that triumphant expres-
sion. Full deployment, engagement, hone and sharpen all of
one’s gifts, and ensure that one will be an original, not a copy.


I tend to think of the differences between leaders and managers
as the differences between those who master the context and
those who surrender to it. There are other differences, as well,
and they are enormous and crucial:

                     On Becoming a Leader

   •   The manager administers; the leader innovates.
   •   The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
   •   The manager maintains; the leader develops.
   •   The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader
       focuses on people.
   •   The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
   •   The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a
       long-range perspective.
   •   The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what
       and why.
   •   The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom
       line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
   •   The manager imitates; the leader originates.
   •   The manager accepts the status quo; the leader chal-
       lenges it.
   •   The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his
       or her own person.
   •   The manager does things right; the leader does the right

   To reprise Wallace Stevens, managers wear square hats and
learn through training. Leaders wear sombreros and opt for edu-
cation. Consider the differences between training and education:

                   Education               Training

                   inductive               deductive
                   tentative               firm
                   dynamic                 static

                   understanding           memorizing
                   ideas                   facts

                    Understanding the Basics

                   broad                     narrow
                   deep                      surface

                   experiential              rote
                   active                    passive
                   questions                 answers
                   process                   content
                   strategy                  tactics

                   alternatives              goal
                   exploration               prediction
                   discovery                 dogma
                   active                    reactive

                   initiative                direction
                   whole brain               left brain

                   life                      job
                   long-term                 short-term
                   change                    stability
                   content                   form
                   flexible                   rigid
                   risk                      rules
                   synthesis                 thesis
                   open                      closed
                   imagination               common sense
The Sum:           Leader                    Manager

If the list on the left seems strange to you, it’s because that isn’t
the way we are usually taught. Our educational system is really
better at training than educating. And that’s unfortunate.

                     On Becoming a Leader

Training is good for dogs, because we require obedience from
them. In people, all it does is orient them toward the bottom
   The list on the left is of all the qualities that business schools
don’t encourage enough, as they too often opt for the short-
run, profit-maximizing, microeconomic bottom line. Bottom
lines have nothing to do with problem-finding. And we need
people who know how to find problems, because the ones we
face today aren’t always clearly defined, and they aren’t linear.
Frank Gehry and other great architects have moved away from
the old divinity of right angles to rhomboids, rounded spaces,
and parabolas. They are designing sombreros. Aspiring leaders
must also think non-traditionally.
   Leaders have nothing but themselves to work with. It is one
of the paradoxes of life that good leaders rise to the top in spite
of their weakness, while bad leaders rise because of their weak-
ness. Abraham Lincoln was subject to fits of serious depression,
yet he was perhaps this country’s best president, guiding this
country through its most severe crisis. On the other hand,
Hitler imposed his psychosis on the German people, leading
them through delusions of grandeur into the vilest madness
and most horrific slaughter the world has ever known.
   What is true for leaders is, for better or for worse, true for
each of us: we are our own raw material. Only when we know
what we’re made of and what we want to make of it can we be-
gin our lives—and we must do it despite an unwitting conspir-
acy of people and events against us. It’s that tension in the
national character again. As Norman Lear put it, “On the one
hand, we’re a society that seems to be proud of individuality. On
the other hand, we don’t really tolerate real individuality. We
want to homogenize it.”

                   Understanding the Basics

   For Oscar-winning movie director Sydney Pollack, the
search for self-knowledge was a continuing process. “There’s a
sort of monologue or dialogue going on in my head all the
time,” he said. “Some of it’s part of a fantasy life, some is ex-
ploratory. Sometimes I can trick myself into problem-solving
by imagining myself talking about problem-solving. If I don’t
know the answer to something, I imagine being asked the ques-
tion in my head. Faulkner said, ‘I don’t know what I think until
I read what I said.’ That’s not just a joke. You learn what you
think by codifying your thinking in some way.”
   That’s absolutely true. Codifying one’s thinking is an im-
portant step in inventing oneself. The most difficult way to
do it is by thinking about thinking—it helps to speak or write
your thoughts. Writing is the most profound way of codify-
ing your thoughts, the best way of learning from yourself
who you are and what you believe.
   Newspaper executive Gloria Anderson added, “It’s vital for
people to develop their own sense of themselves and their role
in the world, and it’s equally vital for them to try new things,
to test themselves and their beliefs and principles. I think we
long for people who will stand up for what they believe, even
if we don’t agree with them, because we have confidence in
such people.”
   Scientist Mathilde Krim agreed. “One must be a good ex-
plorer and a good listener, too, to take in as much as possible
but not swallow anything uncritically. One must finally trust
his own gut reactions,” she said. “A value system, beliefs, are
important so you know where you stand, but they must be your
own values, not someone else’s.”
   If knowing yourself and being yourself were as easy to do as
to talk about, there wouldn’t be nearly so many people walking

                    On Becoming a Leader

around in borrowed postures, spouting secondhand ideas, try-
ing desperately to fit in rather than to stand out. Former Lucky
Stores CEO Don Ritchey said, on the need for being oneself,
“I believe people spot phonies in very short order, whether that
be on an individual basis or a company basis. As Emerson says,
‘What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.’”


Harvard professor emeritus Abraham Zaleznik posits that
there are two kinds of leaders: once-borns and twice-borns.
The once-born’s transition from home and family to independ-
ence is relatively easy. Twice-borns generally suffer as they
grow up, feel different, even isolated, and so develop an elabo-
rate inner life. As they grow older, they become truly inde-
pendent, relying wholly on their own beliefs and ideas. Leaders
who are twice born are inner-directed, self-assured, and, as a
result, truly charismatic, according to Zaleznik.
   Once-borns, then, have been invented by their circumstances,
as in the case of Johnson and Nixon, while twice-borns have in-
vented themselves, as in the case of Roosevelt and Truman.
   A couple of studies underscore the benefits, even the neces-
sity, of self-invention. First, middle-aged men tend to change
careers after having heart attacks. Faced with their own mortal-
ity, these men realize that what they’ve been doing, what
they’ve invested their lives in, is not an accurate reflection of
their real needs and desires.
   Another study indicates that what determines the level of
satisfaction in post-middle-aged men is the degree to which
they acted upon their youthful dreams. It’s not so much

                  Understanding the Basics

whether they were successful in achieving their dreams as the
honest pursuit of them that counts. The spiritual dimension in
creative effort comes from that honest pursuit.
   There is, of course, evidence that women, too, are happier
when they’ve invented themselves instead of accepting with-
out question the roles they were brought up to play. Psychol-
ogist and author Sonya Friedman said, “The truth of the
matter is that the most emotionally disturbed women are
those who are married and into traditional full-time, lifetime
homemaker roles. Single women have always been happier
than married women. Always. And there isn’t a study that has
disproved that.”
   Staying single has historically been the only way most
women were free to invent themselves. Nineteenth-century
poet Emily Dickinson, a reclusive woman who never married
and who surely invented herself, is supposed to have said to one
of the rare visitors to her room, “Here is freedom!”
   Fortunately, the changing times have meant changes in rela-
tionships, too. Many of the women leaders I talked with have
managed to invent themselves even though married—as has
Friedman herself.
   I cannot stress too much the need for self-invention. To be
authentic is literally to be your own author (the words derive
from the same Greek root), to discover your own native ener-
gies and desires, and then to find your own way of acting on
them. When you’ve done that, you are not existing simply in
order to live up to an image posited by the culture or by some
other authority or by a family tradition. When you write your
own life, then no matter what happens, you have played the
game that was natural for you to play. If, as someone said, “it
is the supervisor’s role in a modern industrial society to limit

                    On Becoming a Leader

the potential of the people who work for him,” then it is your
task to do whatever you must to break out of such limits and
live up to your potential, to keep the covenant with your
youthful dreams.
   Norman Lear would add to this that the goal isn’t worth
arriving at unless you enjoy the journey. “You have to look at
success incrementally,” he said. “It takes too long to get to
any major success. . . . If one can look at life as being success-
ful on a moment-by-moment basis, one might find that most
of it is successful. And take the bow inside for it. When we
wait for the big bow, it’s a lousy bargain. They don’t come but
once in too long a time.”
   Applauding yourself for the small successes, and taking the
small bow, are good ways of learning to experience life each
moment that you live it. And that’s part of inventing yourself,
of creating your own destiny.
   To become a leader, then, you must become yourself, be-
come the maker of your own life. While there are no rules for
doing this, there are some lessons I can offer from my decades
of observation and study. And we’ll turn to those lessons now.

                   Knowing Yourself
         I have often thought that the best way to define a man’s character
            would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in
           which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and
             intensively active and alive. At such moments, there is a voice
                        inside which speaks and says, “This is the real me.”

                                             —William James
                                       Letters of William James

By the time we reach puberty, the world has reached us and
shaped us to a greater extent than we realize. Our family,
friends, school, and society in general have told us—by word
and example—how to be. But people begin to become leaders
at that moment when they decide for themselves how to be.
   For some leaders, this happens early. Former Secretary of
Education Shirley Hufstedler has spent her life in the legal
profession, but she was something of an outlaw as a young
girl. She told me, “When I was very young, the things I
wanted to do were not permitted by social dictates. I wanted
to do a lot of things that girls weren’t supposed to do. So I

                    On Becoming a Leader

had to figure out ways to do what I wanted to do and still
show up in a pinafore for a piano recital, so as not to blow my
cover. You could call it manipulation, but I see it as observa-
tion and picking one’s way around obstacles. If you think of
what you want and examine the possibilities, you can usually
figure out a way to accomplish it.”
   Brooke Knapp, a trail-blazing pilot and businesswoman,
also fought her way out of the mold. She said, “I was raised
in the South, and I was raised to be a wife. When I went to
college, the definition of success was to get married to a gen-
tleman and help him succeed and have children . . . [but]
I was a little savage, in the best sense of the word, because I
was stronger than my mother, and there was no way to
control me.”
   As Knapp learned, however, breaking out, being yourself, is
sometimes anything but easy. She said, “In high school, I real-
ized that I was going to be voted the most athletic, but I didn’t
want the ‘lady jock’ label, so I decided to become the most pop-
ular. I learned the name of every single person casting a ballot
and called them all by name and won.” Her popularity took a
nosedive when “the mothers of the girls in my class started tak-
ing potshots at me. I concluded that success means that people
don’t like you and you become a bad person, so I shut down for
a lot of years. It wasn’t till after I got married that I began to
experience my need to achieve again.”
   Know thyself, then, means separating who you are and who
you want to be from what the world thinks you are and wants
you to be. Author/psychiatrist Roger Gould also declared his
independence very early. He said, “I remember, during argu-
ments with my father, there seemed to be arbitrary rules, which
I never understood. I used to ask ‘why’ all the time. One time, I

                       Knowing Yourself

must have been six, I was lying in bed and looking up at the
stars and thinking, ‘There’re other planets out there, and
maybe there’s life on some of them, and the earth is enormous,
with millions of people, and everyone can’t be right all the
time, so my father could be wrong, and I could be right.’ It was
my own theory of relativity. Then, in high school, I began
reading the classics, and they were my transition in my own
life, away from my parents. I had my own private life, which I
could appreciate on its terms, and never talk to anyone else
about it until I had digested it for myself.”
   Hufstedler, Knapp, and Gould clearly invented themselves,
just as the other leaders I talked with did. They overcame a va-
riety of obstacles in a variety of ways, but all stressed the im-
portance of self-knowledge.
   Some start the process early, and some don’t do it until later.
It doesn’t matter. Self-knowledge, self-invention are lifetime
processes. Those people who struggled to know themselves
and become themselves as children or teenagers continue to-
day to explore their own depths, reflect on their experiences,
and test themselves. Others—like Roosevelt and Truman—un-
dertake their own remaking in midlife. Sometimes we simply
don’t like who we are or what we’re doing, and so we seek
change. Sometimes events, as in Truman’s case, require more
of us than we think we have. But all of us can find tangible and
intangible rewards in self-knowledge and self-control, because
if you go on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll go on get-
ting what you’ve always got—which may be less than you want
or deserve.
   All of the leaders I talked with agreed that no one can teach
you how to become yourself, to take charge, to express your-
self, except you. But there are some things that others have

                     On Becoming a Leader

done that are useful to think about in the process. I’ve organ-
ized them as the four lessons of self-knowledge. They are

   •   One: You are your own best teacher.
   •   Two: Accept responsibility. Blame no one.
   •   Three: You can learn anything you want to learn.
   •   Four: True understanding comes from reflecting on your

Lesson One: You Are Your Own Best Teacher
Gib Akin, professor at the McIntire School of Commerce,
University of Virginia, studied the learning experiences of sixty
managers. In his classic study, published in Organizational Dy-
namics, Akin found that the managers’ descriptions were “sur-
prisingly congruous. . . . Learning is experienced as a personal
transformation. A person does not gather learnings as posses-
sions but rather becomes a new person. . . . To learn is not to
have, it is to be.”
   Akin’s roster of modes of learning includes

   •   Emulation, in which one emulates either someone one
       knows or a historical or public figure.
   •   Role taking, in which one has a conception of what one
       should be and does it.
   •   Practical accomplishment, in which one sees a problem as
       an opportunity and learns through the experience of deal-
       ing with it.
   •   Validation, in which one tests concepts by applying them
       and learns after the fact.
   •   Anticipation, in which one develops a concept and then
       applies it, learning before acting.

                        Knowing Yourself

   •   Personal growth, in which one is less concerned with spe-
       cific skills than with self-understanding and the “transfor-
       mation of values and attitudes.”
   •   Scientific learning, in which one observes, conceptualizes
       on the basis of one’s observations, and then experiments
       to gather new data, with a primary focus on truth.

   The managers Akin interviewed cited two basic motivations
for learning. The first was a need to know, which they de-
scribed, he said, “as rather like a thirst or hunger gnawing at
them, sometimes dominating their attention until satisfied.”
The second was “a sense of role,” which stems from “a person’s
perception of the gap between what he or she is, and what he
or she should be.”
   In other words, the managers knew that they were not ful-
filling their own potential, not expressing themselves fully. And
they knew that learning was a way out of the trap, a major step
toward self-expression. And they saw learning as something in-
timately connected with self. No one could have taught them
that in school. They had to teach themselves. Somehow they
had reached a point in life where they knew they had to learn
new things—it was either that or admit that they had settled
for less than they were capable of. If you can accept all that, as
the managers did, the next step is to assume responsibility for
your education as well as yourself. Major stumbling blocks on
the path to self-knowledge are denial and blame.

Lesson Two: Accept Responsibility. Blame No One
The wisdom of this seems intuitively obvious to me. So I’ll let
you listen to Marty Kaplan, who is the best example of accept-
ing responsibility for oneself that I know of.

                    On Becoming a Leader

   Today, Kaplan is a research professor at the University of
Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication
who holds the Norman Lear Chair in Entertainment, Media,
and Society. He is an accomplished screenwriter and producer
as well as a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. But he
was only in his 30s when, in the mid–1980s, he embarked on his
third career—as Disney Productions’ Vice President. He went
to Disney with a wide-ranging background—from biology to
the Harvard Lampoon, from broadcast and print journalism to
high-level politics. He knew a lot about a lot of things, but very
little about the movie business. His description of his self-
designed university illustrates how he accepted the responsibil-
ity for creating his own success:
   “Before starting this job, I put myself through a crash
course, watching five or six movies every single day for six
weeks, trying to see every successful picture of the last several
years. Then I read as many of the scripts as I could get my
hands on, to see what made these particular movies great. I
kind of invented my own university, so that I could get some
sense of both the business and the art. . . . I’ve always been in
worlds where knowing the community has been important. In
graduate school, when I was studying literature, to know the
writers and critics was to know a universe. In Washington, I
had to learn the political players, and here I had to learn the
players. It became clear to me that there were about one hun-
dred core writers, and I systematically set out to read a
screenplay or two by each of them. When I got here, I was
told it would take me three years to get grounded, but after
nine months, the head of the studio told me I’d graduated and
promoted me. Within a year I found—with some stumbles
here and there—that I could perform the way my peers, who

                       Knowing Yourself

had spent their entire careers here, did. I attribute that partly
to discipline, partly to desire, and partly to the old transfer-
ability of skills. You use many of the same muscles in molecu-
lar biology, politics, and the movies. It’s all about making
   “One thing I did when I first got here was to sit in the office
of the studio head all day, day after day, and watch and listen to
everything he said or did. So when writers would come, when
producers would come, I would just be there. When he was
making phone calls, I would sit and listen to him, and I would
hear him contend with what a person in his position contends
with. How does he say no to someone, how does he say yes,
how does he duck, how does he wheedle and coax? I would
have a yellow pad with me, and all through my first many
months, any phrase I didn’t understand, any piece of industry
jargon, any name, any maneuver I didn’t follow, any of the
deal-making business financial stuff I didn’t understand, I’d
write it down, and periodically I would go trotting around to
find anyone I could get to answer.
   “There was no situation that I could fail to learn from, be-
cause everything was new to me, and therefore no matter what
it was, however obtuse the person I was meeting with, however
stupid the idea, however low-powered the agent pitching me
something, it was a useful encounter, because I would be for
the first time in that position. Every single thing was new, and
so I had a complete tolerance for every conceivable experience,
and as I learned from what other people would regard as real
tedium, and stupid and avoidable experiences, I would then be-
gin to filter those out of my input until I was ultimately only
doing what I thought was useful and important for me, or
things from which I could learn, or had to do.”

                     On Becoming a Leader

Lesson Three:
You Can Learn Anything You Want to Learn
If one of the basic ingredients of leadership is a passion for the
promises of life, the key to realizing the promise is the full
deployment of yourself, as Kaplan did when he arrived at Dis-
ney. Full deployment is simply another way of defining learning.
   Learning, the kind Kaplan did, the kind I’m talking about
here, is much more than the absorption of a body of knowledge
or mastery of a discipline. It’s seeing the world simultaneously
as it is and as it can be, understanding what you see, and acting
on your understanding. Kaplan didn’t just study the movie busi-
ness, he embraced it and absorbed it, and thereby understood it.
   In our discussion, I suggested that this kind of learning has
to do with reflecting on experience. Kaplan said, “I would add a
component to that, which is the appetite to have experience,
because people can be experience averse and therefore not
learn. Unless you have the appetite to absorb new and poten-
tially unsettling things, you don’t learn. . . . Part of it is tem-
perament. It’s a kind of fearlessness and optimism and
confidence, and you’re not afraid of failure.”
   “You’re not afraid of failure.” Keep that in mind, because
we’ll get back to it later.

Lesson Four: True Understanding
Comes from Reflecting on Your Experience
Kaplan didn’t simply watch all those movies and read all those
scripts and spend all those hours in the studio head’s office. He
did all that, and then he reflected on what he’d seen and read
and heard, and he came to a new understanding.
   Reflecting on experience is a means of having a Socratic dia-
logue with yourself, asking the right questions at the right

                       Knowing Yourself

time, in order to discover the truth of yourself and your life.
What really happened? Why did it happen? What did it do to
me? What did it mean to me? In this way, one locates and ap-
propriates the knowledge one needs or, more precisely, recov-
ers what one knew but had forgotten, and becomes, in Goethe’s
phrase, the hammer rather than the anvil.
   Kaplan stated it forcefully: “The habit of reflection may be a
consequence of facing mortality. . . . To begin to understand
any great literature is to understand that it’s a race against
death, and it’s the redeeming power of love or God or art or
whatever the artist is proposing that’s the thing that makes the
race against death worth racing. . . . In a way, reflection is ask-
ing the questions that provoke self-awareness.”
   Nothing is truly yours until you understand it—not even
yourself. Our feelings are raw, unadulterated truth, but until
we understand why we are happy or angry or anxious, the truth
is useless to us. For example, every one of us has been yelled at
by a superior and bitten our tongues, afraid to yell back. Later,
we yell at a friend who has done nothing. Such displaced emo-
tions punctuate our lives, and diminish them. This is not to
suggest that yelling back at a superior is a useful response. Un-
derstanding is the answer. When you understand, then you
know what to do.
   The importance of reflecting on experience, the idea that re-
flecting leads to understanding, came up again and again in my
conversations with leaders. Now executive director of the Na-
tional School Boards Association, Anne Bryant was executive
director of the American Association of University Women
when she told me she has made reflection a part of her daily
routine: “Every morning after the alarm goes off, I lie in bed
for about fifteen minutes, going over what I want to get out of

                     On Becoming a Leader

each event of my day, and what I want to get done by the end
of the week. I’ve been doing it for two or three years, and if I
don’t do it, I feel I’ve wasted the day.”
   To look forward with acuity you must first look back with
honesty. After spending four days a week at her Washington,
D.C., office, Bryant spent the balance of the week at her home
in Chicago, where she read, reflected on the week just past, and
planned for the days ahead.
   Those, then, are the four lessons of self-knowledge. But in
order to put these lessons into practice, you need to understand
the effect that childhood experiences, family, and peers have
had on the person you’ve become.
   All too often, we are strangers to ourselves. In his classic The
Lonely Crowd, David Riesman wrote, “The source of direction
for the individual is ‘inner’ in the sense that it is implanted
early in life by the elders and directed toward generalized, but
nonetheless inescapably destined roles,” while “what is com-
mon to all the other-directed people is that their contempo-
raries are the source of direction for the individual—either
those known to him or those with whom he is indirectly ac-
quainted through friends and through the mass media. This
source is internalized in the sense that dependence on it for
guidance in life is implanted early. The goals toward which the
other-directed person strives shift with that guidance: It is only
the process of striving itself and the process of paying close at-
tention to the signals from others that remain unaltered
throughout life.”
   In other words, most of us are made by our elders or by our
peers. But leaders are self-directed. Let’s stop and think about
that for a moment. Leaders are self-directed, but learning and
understanding are the keys to self-direction, and it is in our

                       Knowing Yourself

relationships with others that we learn about ourselves. As
Boris Pasternak wrote in Doctor Zhivago,

  Well, what are you? What is it about you that you have always
  known as yourself? What are you conscious of in yourself:
  your kidneys, your liver, your blood vessels? No. However far
  back you go in your memory it is always some external mani-
  festation of yourself where you come across your identity: in
  the work of your hands, in your family, in other people. And
  now, listen carefully. You in others—this is what you are, this
  is what your consciousness has breathed, and lived on, and en-
  joyed throughout your life, your soul, your immortality—your
  life in others.

   How, then, do we resolve the paradox? This way: leaders
learn from others, but they are not made by others. This is the
distinguishing mark of leaders. The paradox becomes a dialec-
tic. The self and the other synthesize through self-invention.
   What that means is that here and now, true learning must
often be preceded by unlearning, because we are taught by our
parents and teachers and friends how to go along, to measure
up to their standards, rather than allowed to be ourselves.
   Alfred Gottschalk, chancellor emeritus of Hebrew Union
College, told me, “The hardest thing I’ve had to do is convey
to children, my own and others, the necessity of coming to
terms with themselves. Their interests aren’t deep. They don’t
think about things. They accept what they’re told and what
they read or see on TV. They’re conformists. They accept the
dictates of fashion.”
   Asked to define his philosophy, Gottschalk said, “I value the
need for the individual to feel unique and for the collective to

                     On Becoming a Leader

remain hospitable to diversity. I believe in unity without uni-
formity and in man’s capacity to redeem himself.”
   Given the pressures from our parents and the pressures from
our peers, how does any one of us manage to emerge as a
sane—much less productive—adult?
   William James wrote, in 1890 in The Principles of Psychology,

  A man’s Self is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only
  his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house,
  his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation
  and works, his lands and horses, and yacht and bank account.
  All these things give him the same emotions. If they wax and
  prosper, he feels triumphant; if they dwindle and die away, he
  feels cast down.

   It’s hard to conceive of a more apt description of the con-
spicuous consumer of any era. But as James concludes, “. . . our
self-feeling in this world depends entirely on what we back
ourselves to be and do.”
   Leaders begin, then, by backing themselves, inspiring them-
selves, trusting themselves, and ultimately inspire others by be-
ing trustworthy.
   Famed psychoanalyst Erik Erikson has divided life into eight
stages that are useful to look at during our examination of self-

  1. Infancy: Basic Trust vs. Basic Mistrust
  2. Early childhood: Autonomy vs. Shame, Doubt
  3. Play age: Initiative vs. Guilt
  4. School age: Industry vs. Inferiority
  5. Adolescence: Identity vs. Identity Confusion

                       Knowing Yourself

  6. Young adulthood: Intimacy vs. Isolation
  7. Adulthood: Generativity vs. Stagnation
  8. Old age: Integrity vs. Despair

   Erikson believes that we do not proceed to the next stage
until each stage’s crisis has been satisfactorily resolved. Too
many of us, for example, never overcome the inner struggle
between initiative and guilt, and so we lack real purpose. A
woman caught between motherhood and an urge for a career
was thought only a generation ago to be at best selfish, at
worst unnatural. Giving up motherhood was deemed unthink-
able; trying to juggle her children and her career was a frus-
trating and usually unsupported choice. Whichever course she
took, initiative and guilt struggled, unresolved. And, of course,
these inner conflicts were made outwardly manifest, inflicted
on the people in her life, as well as on herself. No one, includ-
ing the hermit, suffers alone.
   Traditionally, it has been easier for men to make their way
through these stages and their attendant crises, but all too of-
ten, prodded by well-meaning parents and teachers, men, too,
do what they’re supposed to do in life, not what they want to
do. In this way, the man who dreams of being a poet becomes
an accountant and the would-be cowboy becomes an executive,
and both suffer the torments of the unfulfilled. And who knows
what they might have done if they had chosen to follow their
dreams? Former Beatle John Lennon, possibly the most influ-
ential songwriter of his generation, gave the aunt who raised
him a gold plaque engraved with her oft-repeated dictum,
“You’ll never make a living playing that guitar.”
   In the world according to Erikson, how we resolve the eight
crises determines who we will be:

                     On Becoming a Leader

  1. Trust vs. Mistrust = hope or withdrawal
  2. Autonomy vs. Shame, Doubt = will or compulsion
  3. Initiative vs. Guilt = purpose or inhibition
  4. Industry vs. Inferiority = competence or inertia
  5. Identity vs. Identity Confusion = fidelity or repudiation
  6. Intimacy vs. Isolation = love or exclusivity
  7. Generativity vs. Stagnation = care or rejectivity
  8. Integrity vs. Despair = wisdom or disdain

   With all the power that the world has over us as we proceed
through the early years of our lives, it is a wonder that any of us
manages to resolve any of these crises in a positive way. Or as a
woman once said to me, the phrase “dysfunctional family” is
redundant: “If there’s a functional family anywhere, I certainly
haven’t seen it.” What she meant by that is that the Cleavers,
Waltons, Huxtables, and other fictional happy families are far
from the reality most of us experience. TV sitcom children are
a good deal more likely to enjoy wise, nurturing parents and
happy childhoods than the population at large.
   Analyst Gould told me he wanted to write a book on recov-
ering from childhood that would focus on “overcoming the
adaptational warp that takes place early in life. If you let it
happen, you undergo an automatic recovery process in the
course of facing and dealing with new realities. In order to
respond to the challenges of each cycle of your life appropri-
ately, you have to continually re-examine your defenses and
assumptions, and in the course of that re-examination, you
iron out the way. . . . Feelings are memories of past behavior.
When you sort them out and see what’s current and what’s left
over, you can literally begin to use your thinking process to
change your behavior.”

                       Knowing Yourself

   There is ample evidence that ego development does not stop
with physical maturity, and so while we cannot change our
height or bone structure, we can change our minds. Many peo-
ple insist that “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” I
wouldn’t quite go that far. We cannot change the circum-
stances of our childhoods, much less improve them at this late
date, but we can recall them honestly, reflect on them, under-
stand them, and thereby overcome their influence on us. With-
drawal can be turned to hope, compulsion to will, inhibition to
purpose, and inertia to competence through the exercise of
memory and understanding.
   There are people who would argue with this, who claim that
our destiny resides wholly in our genes, that each of us is a
mere product of heredity. Others argue fervently that each of
us is an offspring of his or her environment and that our fate is
determined by our circumstances. Studies of identical twins
who have been raised separately indicate that there is more
truth to the first perspective. But the real answer to how we be-
come who we are is more complex.
   Genetic research affirms that there is a strong hereditary
component to disease. Equally compelling research suggests that
stress and other environmental factors also affect our health.
Similarly, some scientists see the brain and heart as mere or-
gans, capable of nothing more than chemical reactions, while
others see the brain and heart as the locus of reason and emo-
tion, sophistication and poetry, all the qualities and capabilities
that separate us from the apes. And while there is neurobiolog-
ical evidence that part of the brain is hardwired prior to birth,
it is increasingly clear that the brain is also plastic in nature,
able to absorb and collate experiences that cause the brain itself
to change.

                    On Becoming a Leader

   There is growing evidence that even personality traits—intro-
version, humor, and so on—are genetic in origin. In the great
debate between hereditary determinism and environmental de-
terminism, there is not much room left for self-determination.
In a sense, both schools justify removing responsibility for be-
havior from the individual, a new variation on the ancient Flip
Wilson routine, “The devil made me do it!”
   The truth is, we’re products of everything—genes, environ-
ment, family, friends, trade winds, earthquakes, sunspots,
schools, accidents, serendipity, anything you can think of, and
more. The endless nature-nurture debate is interesting, even
occasionally revelatory, but inconclusive. Like everyone else,
leaders are products of this great stew of chemistry and circum-
stance. What distinguishes the leader from everyone else is that
he or she takes all of that and creates a new, unique self.
   Novelist William Faulkner told us that the past isn’t dead. It
isn’t even past yet. Each of us contains his or her entire life.
Everything we did or saw, everyone we ever encountered, is in
our heads. But all that psychic baggage can be turned into
comprehensible and useful experience by reflecting on it.
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I’d go
a step further: The unexamined life is impossible to live suc-
cessfully. Like oarsmen, we generally move forward while look-
ing backward, but not until we truly see the past—and
understand it—can we successfully navigate the future.
   Until you make your life your own, you’re walking around
in borrowed clothes. Leaders, whatever their field, are made up
as much of their experiences as their skills, like everyone else.
Unlike everyone else, they use their experience rather than be-
ing used by it.
   William James again: “Genius . . . means little more than the
faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.” By the time we

                      Knowing Yourself

reach adulthood, we are driven as much by habit as by anything
else, and there is an infinity of habits in us. From the woman
who twirls a strand of hair when she’s nervous or bored to the
man who expresses his insecurity by never saying “thank you,”
we are all victims of habits. They do not merely rule us, they
inhibit us and make fools of us.
   To free ourselves from habit, to resolve the paradoxes, to
transcend conflicts, to become the masters rather than the
slaves of our own lives, we must first see and remember, and
then forget. That is why true learning begins with unlearning—
and why unlearning is one of the recurring themes of our story.
   Every great inventor or scientist has had to unlearn conven-
tional wisdom in order to proceed with his or her work. For ex-
ample, conventional wisdom said, “If God had meant man to
fly, He would have given him wings.” But the Wright brothers
disagreed and built an airplane.
   No one—not your parents nor your teachers nor your
peers—can teach you how to be yourself. Indeed, however well
intentioned, they all work to teach you how not to be yourself.
As the eminent child psychologist Jean Piaget said, “Every time
we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it
himself.” I would go a step further. Every time we teach chil-
dren something, rather than helping them learn, we keep them
from inventing themselves. By its very nature, teaching ho-
mogenizes, both its subjects and its objects. Learning, on the
other hand, liberates. The more we know about ourselves and
our world, the freer we are to achieve everything we are capa-
ble of achieving.
   Many leaders have had problems with school, particularly
their early school experiences. Albert Einstein wrote, “It is
nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of in-
struction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of

                     On Becoming a Leader

inquiry. . . . It is a grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of
seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion
and a sense of duty.”
   Among the leaders I spoke with, scientist and philanthropist
Mathilde Krim said, “To the extent that school is regimented, I
don’t like it.” And Edward C. Johnson III, chairman of the
board and CEO of Fidelity Investments, said, “Sitting in a
classroom was never one of my strengths, but I’ve always been
curious about ideas and objects.” Johnson instinctively knew
the difference between teaching and learning, between training
and education.
   Obviously, we cannot do away with—or do without—fami-
lies or schools or any of the instruments of homogeneity. But
we can see them for what they are, which is part of the equa-
tion, not the equation itself.
   The prevailing equation is:
  family + school + friends = you
  But the only workable equation for anyone aspiring to self-
hood is:
  family + school + friends = true you
   In this way, rather than being designed by your experience,
you become your own designer. You become cause and effect
rather than mere effect.
   Self-awareness = self-knowledge = self-possession = self-
control = self-expression.
   You make your life your own by understanding it.

              Knowing the World
                    I took a good deal o’ pains with his education, sir; let
                   him run the streets when he was very young, and shift
                    for his-self. It’s the only way to make a boy sharp, sir.

                                          —Charles Dickens
                                             Pickwick Papers

One of the problems with standard leadership courses is that
they focus exclusively on skills and produce managers rather
than leaders, when they produce anything at all. Managerial
skills can, of course, be taught. And they are useful skills for
leaders to have. The ingredients of leadership cannot be
taught, however. They must be learned. As then CalFed CEO
Robert Dockson put it, “The things that matter can’t be taught
in a formal classroom setting. Walter Wriston at Citicorp and
A. P. Giannini at the Bank of America weren’t technicians.
They were men of vision. They knew what they wanted to do
and where they wanted to take their companies.” Since by defi-
nition leaders are unique, what they learn and how they use it
to shape the future is unique, too.

                    On Becoming a Leader

   As I noted in the last chapter, leaders are made at least as
much by their experiences and their understanding and appli-
cation of their experiences as by any skills. Norman Lear told
me of an experience he had when he was in the Air Force, sta-
tioned in Italy: “I remember decking one guy—I hit one guy in
my life before anybody hit me, in a bar in Foggia, Italy. He was
a GI making an anti-Semitic joke. And I wrote an episode of
‘All in the Family’ about it. Mike hit somebody who was violat-
ing somebody else on the subway and scared himself with his
own violence. And I had scared myself that way. I guess I see
leadership in that, but I don’t know where that comes from ex-
cept that early feeling of how do I overcome this problem of
being so much a minority and so unwanted.”
   Clearly, to become a true leader, one must know the world as
well as one knows one’s self. A variety of studies, as well as the
lives of the leaders I talked with, demonstrates that certain
kinds of experiences are especially significant for learning.
These experiences include broad and continuing education,
idiosyncratic families, extensive travel and/or exile, a rich pri-
vate life, and key associations with mentors and groups.
   I want to discuss the benefits of those experiences, but first I
want to get into some ideas about learning itself.
   In 1972, the Club of Rome began a groundbreaking study of
learning, opening with a delineation of outer limits, which, in
its words, “narrow our possibilities of material growth on a fi-
nite planet,” and closing with a defense of “the inner free mar-
gins . . . which exist in ourselves and are pregnant with the
potency of unparalleled developments.”
   Still relevant today, the Club’s report was published in 1979
as No Limits to Learning: Bridging the Human Gap, by James W.

                        Knowing the World

Botkin, Mahdi Elmandjra, and Mircea Malitza. Aurelio Peccei
states in his foreword, “All we need at this point in human evo-
lution is to learn what it takes to learn what we should learn—
and learn it.” The authors go on to define “the human gap” as
“the distance between growing complexity and our capacity to
cope with it. . . . We call it a human gap because it is a di-
chotomy between a growing complexity of our own making
and a lagging development of our own capacities.”
   The authors describe the two principal modes of conven-
tional learning:

   •   Maintenance learning, the most prevalent, is “the acquisi-
       tion of fixed outlooks, methods and rules for dealing with
       known and recurring situations. . . . It is the type of learn-
       ing designed to maintain an existing system or established
       way of life.”
   •   Shock learning, almost as prevalent now, occurs when
       events overwhelm people. As the authors put it, “Even up
       to the present moment, humanity continues to wait for
       events and crises that . . . catalyze or impose this primitive
       learning by shock. . . . Shock learning can be seen as a
       product of elitism, technocracy and authoritarianism.
       Learning by shock often follows a period of overconfi-
       dence in solutions created solely with expert knowledge
       or technical competence and perpetuated beyond the
       conditions for which they were appropriate.”

  In other words, both maintenance learning and shock learn-
ing are less learning than they are accepting conventional wis-
dom. Society or one’s family or school says this is the way

                     On Becoming a Leader

things are and these are the things you need to know, and you
accept what you’re told as gospel. You forget that there is a self
that must be listened to.
   America’s automotive industry prospered on maintenance
learning, until it suddenly found itself up against the wall, out-
done and outsold by the Japanese automotive wizards, and
learned by shock that it was in crisis. Detroit was bankrupt cre-
atively and facing financial ruin, but instead of trying to think
its way out of the dilemma, it ran on shock for years, closing
down plants, throwing thousands of employees out of work,
buying any solution that looked good. It wasn’t until recently
that Detroit truly began to examine and recover from its self-
inflicted wounds, evidence of what the Club of Rome calls
“innovative learning that may come too late.”
   The authors write, “The conventional pattern of mainte-
nance/shock learning is inadequate to cope with global com-
plexity and is likely, if unchecked, to lead to . . . loss of control
over events and crises. . . .”
   What applies on a global basis applies on the personal level,
too. Anyone who relies on maintenance and shock learning is
bound to be more reactor than actor in his or her own life. For
example, most families simply maintain. When someone in the
family dies suddenly, the shock is so profound that the family fre-
quently falls apart, at least temporarily. We all know husbands
and wives who were so devastated by the death of a child that
they wound up divorced. In the same way, people in business who
simply accept conventional wisdom may reach the top of a bu-
reaucratic organization, but they will never use their particular
talents to their fullest. And if they ever confront their own lives,
they will suffer the shock of failed aspirations—at the very least.
   So innovative learning must replace maintenance/shock
learning. The principal components of innovative learning are

                       Knowing the World

   •   Anticipation: being active and imaginative rather than
       passive and habitual.
   •   Learning by listening to others.
   •   Participation: shaping events, rather than being shaped by

   Obviously, then, innovative learning requires that you trust
yourself, that you be self-directed rather than other-directed in
both your life and your work. If you learn to anticipate the fu-
ture and shape events rather than being shaped by them you
will benefit in significant ways.
   In making what the authors of the Club of Rome report call
“the shift from . . . unconscious adaptation to conscious partic-
ipation,” we make or recognize new connections, generating
useful syntheses, and our understanding deepens.
   Movie director Pollack discussed the forces that work against
innovative learning. “Everybody has the ability to free associate,
but society tends to frown on active fantasies. Beyond a certain
age, we stop playing games, ‘let’s pretend,’ ‘what if,’ and all that.
It goes on in your head anyway, but at some point you start to
feel guilty. You know, you listen to a symphony and imagine that
you’re the conductor, and there you are, conducting like crazy,
but then you get to be a grown man, and you say, ‘Gee, I’d hate
for anybody to know that I’m pretending I’m conducting the
symphony.’ But that kind of fantasy life is the real key to prob-
lem solving at every level. It’s certainly the primary tool for
problem solving in art, whether it’s painting or dancing or cho-
reography or directing films or writing scripts or writing novels
or whatever.” Creative problem solving is a form of innovative
   In innovative learning, one must not only recognize existing
contexts, but be capable of imagining future contexts. American

                     On Becoming a Leader

foreign policy was skewed for generations because our policy
makers operated on the false assumption that communism was
monolithic. It was a textbook example of maintenance learning.
In fact, even during the Soviet era, there were many varieties of
communism. Maintenance learning sees communism as purely
political, rather than social, economic, and political. Innovative
learning sees through the political similarities to the social and
economic differences that make the few remaining communist
societies distinct.
   Innovative learning is a way of realizing vision. Attorney
Shirley Hufstedler spoke about looking ahead. “You have to be
able to envision in fairly concrete terms what ought to be done
or what you want to do or where you want to go. . . . A certain
amount of conceptualization is required. It’s not unlike plan-
ning a trip. First you have to figure out where you want to go.
Then you have to devise a mode of transportation. If no one’s
done it before, you may have to make it up. You have to main-
tain a certain amount of flexibility in organizing people to go
with you. You have to know from the beginning how much bag-
gage you have to haul, or how light you can travel. It requires a
combination of historical perspective, vision, and institutional
appreciation—what its texture is, what its possibilities are.”
   Maintenance learning, which most organizations and educa-
tional institutions practice, seeks to preserve the status quo and
make good soldiers of us all. It’s a monologue based in author-
ity— hierarchical, exclusive, and isolating. Being limited and fi-
nite, it is a static body of knowledge. It requires us to adjust to
things as they are.
   Shock learning keeps us in line and obedient, by confirming
our inability to control events or prepare for the future as indi-

                      Knowing the World

viduals, and by affirming the need for authority and hierarchi-
cal organizations to protect us.
   Innovative learning is the primary means of exercising our
autonomy, a means of understanding and working within the
prevailing context in a positive way. It is a dialogue that begins
with curiosity and is fueled by knowledge, leading to under-
standing. It is inclusive, unlimited, and unending, knowing and
dynamic. It allows us to change the way things are.
   In sum, we have the means within us to free ourselves from
the constraints of the past, which lock us into imposed roles
and attitudes. By examining and understanding the past, we can
move into the future unencumbered by it. We become free to ex-
press ourselves, rather than endlessly trying to prove ourselves.
   In the same way, through the exercise of innovative learning,
we no longer follow along, but rather lead our own lives. We
do not accept things as they are, but rather anticipate things as
they can be. We participate in making things happen.
   We shape life, rather than being shaped by it. This dictum is
borne out again and again.
   In the early 1960s, Victor and Mildred Goertzel set out to
discover what several hundred successful men and women had
in common, and published their findings in Cradles of Eminence.
Their subjects ranged from writers and actors to politicians
and businessmen.
   Their findings are instructive. Most of their subjects came
from small towns or villages. In almost every household, there
was a love of learning, “often accompanied by a physical exu-
berance and a persistent drive toward goals.” Half of the par-
ents were opinionated about controversial subjects. Nearly
half the fathers “were subject to traumatic vicissitudes in their

                    On Becoming a Leader

business or professional careers,” while one-fourth of the
mothers were “described as dominating.”
   Wealth was much more frequent than abject poverty. One-
fourth of the subjects were physically handicapped. The homes
of the subjects “were exceptionally free of mental illnesses
requiring hospitalization.” As children, the subjects enjoyed
being tutored, “most frequently disliked secondary school,”
and most frequently liked “the prestige college.” A full three-
fourths “expressed dissatisfaction with schools and school
teachers, although four-fifths showed exceptional talent.” Fi-
nally, three-fourths of the subjects were troubled as children—
by poverty, a broken home, difficult parents, financial ups and
downs, physical handicaps, or parental dissatisfaction over their
children’s school failures or vocational choices.
   The Goertzels include a statement from T. H. Huxley that
sums up the need to examine and overcome one’s past that I
outlined earlier. Huxley said, “Sit down before fact as a little
child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow
humbly wherever and to whatever abyss nature leads, or you
shall learn nothing.”
   There is nothing you can do about your early life now,
except to understand it. You can, however, do everything
about the rest of your life. As John Gardner once said, “The
maturing of any complex talent requires a happy combination
of motivation, character, and opportunity. Most talent remains
   Universities, unfortunately, are not always the best place to
learn. Too many of them are less places of higher learning than
they are high-class vocational schools. Too many produce
narrow-minded specialists who may be wizards at making
money, but who are unfinished as people. These specialists have
been taught how to do, but they have not learned how to be. In-

                      Knowing the World

stead of studying philosophy, history, and literature—which are
the experiences of all humankind—they study specific technolo-
gies. In the long run narrow specialties may be more prone to
obsolescence and may fail to deliver big salaries, let alone the
incalculable rewards of a more broadly examined life.
    Educator and former Disney executive Marty Kaplan said,
“You spend your early years asking your parents all the big
questions—where am I from, why did Grandpa die and where
did he go, and who is God? Kids are sponges for that stuff.
What do undergraduates talk about in the middle of the night
but that stuff? What am I doing with my life, who am I, all
those questions that we encourage in a liberal arts confronta-
tion with the abyss. I think that’s at the core of our notion of
what Western values are, the confrontation with the abyss, and
some people will call the abyss death in a sort of casual biologi-
cal sense, while some people have a much more metaphysical
conception of nothingness, but I think it starts in the child, and
we either let it flourish or repress it, but it’s always there, and
it’s always going to be there.”
    Poet Richard Wilbur wrote, “But ceremony never did con-
ceal,/Save to the silly eye, which all allows,/How much we are
the woods we wander in.” We need to wander through all the
woods at our disposal, and out of all that to begin to under-
stand ourselves and the world.
    In the mid–1980s, the issue of our cultural illiteracy reached
the best-seller lists, with Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the Amer-
ican Mind and E. D. Hirsch, Jr.’s Cultural Literacy: What Every
American Needs to Know. A nationwide test of history and litera-
ture given to 7,800 high school juniors proved Bloom and
Hirsch’s thesis. The average score, as reported in What Do Our
17-Year-Olds Know? by Diane Ravitch and Chester E. Finn, Jr.,
was in the 50s—an F.

                     On Becoming a Leader

  The authors wrote,

  Perhaps the most obvious indicator of how process-driven our
  schools have become is the dominant role played by the
  Scholastic Aptitude Test. Looming over our educational land-
  scape is an examination that, in its verbal component, carefully
  avoids assessing substantive knowledge. . . . Whether test-
  takers have studied the Civil War, learned about the Magna
  Carta or read Macbeth are matters to which the SAT is stu-
  diously indifferent.

   Whatever our schools are teaching—or at least testing—has
increasingly less to do with what we have historically consid-
ered education, and more to do with the ubiquitous bottom
line. A study by the Carnegie Foundation shows that an in-
creasing number of young people choose fields that promise to
be instantly profitable, such as business, engineering, computer
science, and health programs.
   Yet Lynne Cheney, former chairman of the National Endow-
ment for the Humanities and wife of former Vice President
Dick Cheney, wrote in Newsweek that many of the country’s
most successful people had a liberal arts background, including
President Reagan and a majority of his cabinet, 38 percent of
all CEOs, and nine of the top thirteen executives at IBM.
According to Cheney, an AT&T study showed that social
science and humanities graduates moved faster into middle
management than engineers and were “doing at least as well as
their business and engineering counterparts in reaching top
management levels.” She concludes, “Students who follow
their hearts in choosing majors will most likely end up laboring
at what they love. They’re the ones who will put in the long

                       Knowing the World

hours and intense effort that achievement requires. And
they’re the ones who will find the sense of purpose that under-
lies most human happiness.”
   Roger Smith, former chairman and CEO of General Motors,
agrees. Smith wrote in the book Educating Managers,

  The art of management begins with vision, a quality that has
  never been so crucial as it is today. . . . Competitiveness—and,
  for some companies, survival itself—depends on the manager’s
  ability to envision new things (as well as new ways of doing old
  things), to extrapolate on the basis of what worked in the past,
  to organize and reorganize operations . . . and to imagine how,
  and by what kind of intervention, the course of events might
  be changed. . . . When students are trained to recognize recur-
  ring elements and common themes in art, literature, physics
  and history, they are . . . learning about the kind of creativity
  that leads to visionary solutions to business problems. . . . Peo-
  ple trained in the liberal arts would be able to understand,
  function in and contribute to the loose-tight, entrepreneurial
  organization that so many other businesses are striving to be-
  come. . . . They learn to tolerate ambiguity and to bring order
  out of apparent confusion. Intellectual integrity is paramount,
  and reasoning processes are just as important as the conclu-
  sions to which they lead. . . . [They have] the kind of sideways
  thinking and cross-classifying habit of mind that comes from
  learning, among other things, the many different ways of look-
  ing at literary works, social systems, chemical processes, or
  languages. . . . [T]he attributes of excellence . . . all depend on
  communication skills and sensitivity to people. . . . Everything
  we do depends on the successful transfer of meaning from one
  group to another.

                     On Becoming a Leader

   CBS, Inc. also agrees. In 1984, the Corporate Council on
the Liberal Arts, representing twelve major companies, was es-
tablished with a $750,000 grant from CBS in association with
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The council’s
purpose, according to its then chairman, Frank Stanton, a for-
mer CBS president, is to “heighten awareness of a liberal arts
education—insight, perception, critical inquiry and imagina-
tion—and to understand the relationship between liberal arts
learning and leadership in the corporate world.”
   That relationship is very real and very strong. This is not to
suggest, however, that if you majored in business or computer
science, you’ve fouled up. One of the marvelous things about life
is that any gaps in your education can be filled, whatever your
age or situation, by reading, and thinking about what you read.


Author Ray Bradbury, giving advice to managers on how to
feed creativity, started his recipe with this:

  Well now, when was the last time you ran to a library and took
  home more books than you could read, like stacked loaves of
  bread, warm in your arms, waiting to be chewed? When, for
  that matter, was the last time you opened a book, placed it to
  your nose, and gave a great sniff? Heaven! The smell of bread,
  baking. When was the last time that you found a really great old
  book store and wandered through it hour after hour, alone,
  finding yourself on the shelves. With no list, no intellectual pri-
  orities, just wandering, snuffing the dust, plucking the pigeon
  books off the shelves to read their entrails and, not in love, put-

                      Knowing the World

  ting them back, or in love, toting them home? To be lost in time
  is to find your roots.

   If you want a more formal approach, many colleges, univer-
sities, and community colleges offer classes in literature, philos-
ophy, and history. Just to let you know that I sometimes
practice what I preach: I once went to Cambridge with two of
my children so that we could all take classes together. My
choice was Charles Dickens and Victorian England. My daugh-
ter Kate studied Shakespearean comedies, and my son Will
took Darwin and modern science. We stayed on one floor of
Trinity Hall at Trinity College and spent a marvelous three
weeks immersed in our books, excitedly swapping the best of
what we were learning.
   Now a professor of constitutional law at American Univer-
sity, Jamie Raskin was an assistant attorney general in Boston
when he warned against letting your ambition get in the way of
your intellectual growth: “‘Ambition is the death of thought,’ as
Wittgenstein said. A number of my friends are as ambitious as I
am, but they suppress any thoughts that might be subversive or
dangerous to their ambitions. Your intellectual life is really the
ability to see how things can be different, and big institutions in
society, whether public or private, often ask people to toe the
line in any number of ways—personal, political, ideological.
And clearly one can get ahead by doing that. I guess the only
way to prevent ambition from killing your intellectual life is not
to be afraid of losing, or to say something people might think is
wrong, or crazy, something the institution isn’t ready to hear
yet. . . . If you want a concrete tip, learn how to speed read.
People say they don’t have time to read. My feeling is, ‘When in
doubt, read it.’ I can read a book in a couple of hours.”

                    On Becoming a Leader

   Then CBS executive Barbara Corday said, regarding educa-
tion, “If I were talking to young executives, I’d advise them to
forget their MBAs. A lot of young leaders are very taken with
their own credentials, and they forget that most American
leaders of the past 150 years didn’t have MBAs, didn’t have
Ph.D.s. I barely graduated from high school and have never
had another day of formal education. I’m not saying that be-
cause I’m particularly proud of it, but I’m also not embarrassed
about it. In my business, very few people have an academic
background that matches in any way what they’re doing now. A
liberal arts education is probably the best thing for my busi-
ness, and I feel I have that, even though I don’t have a degree to
show. . . . A lot of the young people I’ve dealt with in the last
five years have all sorts of degrees, but they lack some of the
personality traits, the showmanship and enthusiasm and child-
like qualities, that the entertainment business requires, and it
makes me sad to see that. . . . People who go to plays, read
books, know the classics, who have an open mind and enjoy ex-
periences, are more apt to be successful in my business than
someone with an MBA in finance.”
   Charles Handy, one of Great Britain’s thought leaders,
would agree with her. He told me that the primary lesson he
learned at the Sloan School of Management was that he didn’t
need to go to school.
   James E. Burke, former CEO of Johnson & Johnson,
learned a lot while getting an MBA, however: “I went to that
school [Harvard Business School] with a set of values that I had
gotten, as people suggest you should, from family and church
and so forth. I was young, and I wasn’t sure that I could succeed
in business with my value system. I was really torn. . . . I had
somehow picked up, as many people do in this country—I

                      Knowing the World

don’t know where—that there was something, not immoral,
about business, but a sense that you had to play the edges in or-
der to be successful. I think a lot of people feel that way. The
business school was a tremendous release, because everything I
was taught at the business school said that’s not true. The way
to be successful is to be straight.”
    The education of former Xerox executive Renn Zaphi-
ropoulos, who founded Versatec, a major producer of electro-
static printers, began at home: “I was brought up in Egypt by
Greek parents. My father was a sea captain, a pilot in the Suez
Canal. He didn’t have any collegiate degrees, but he’d been
everywhere and was a heavy reader. He used to say, ‘Your house
is your university.’ He was a poet. Instead of going to church,
we all listened to classical music on Sundays. His advice to me
was never to do anything because other people did it, but be-
cause it made good sense to me. I was a good student, not
straight A’s, but good. Straight-A students never seem to get
over it. I had a lot of other interests. I studied painting, com-
posed music, did some woodworking, wrote poems. . . . It’s
easy enough to learn marketing, selling, engineering, whatever.
It’s harder to learn how to optimize your own performance and
that of your subordinates. It’s vital to possess an adequate un-
derstanding of the first principles of human behavior in order
to perform as optimum supervisors and directors of people.”
    John Sculley, like Jim Burke, believes in formal education and
took an MBA. Sculley’s curriculum vitae is well known. He left
Pepsico after a very successful run when Apple co-founder Steve
Jobs challenged him by asking whether he really wanted to
spend the rest of his life selling sugar water or he wanted a
chance to change the world. Sculley was CEO of Apple when he
told me he saw genuine and valuable links between education

                     On Becoming a Leader

and business. “The people I gravitate to are dreamers. I wouldn’t
live anywhere except near a great university, because I like access
to the libraries, to academics. Most new industries tend to grow
up around major university communities, which means that po-
tential leaders are developing in a very different context [from]
the traditional narrow one. This isn’t a high-tech phenomenon.
The question isn’t how many computer scientists use our com-
puters, but how many artists use them.”
   Don Ritchey summed it up thusly: “Education helps pro-
duce conceptual skills. The majority of people don’t learn
those skills without the help of some education. I don’t know
that the humanities are better than a business education, but I
think a university helps you learn how to think and to analyze
problems, to see things as a whole and see how you can put
them together. It seems to me that the people with an educa-
tional match to the practical experience turn out to be the best
   At Hebrew school, a teacher told Roger Gould, “They can
take our jewels and cars and furs and houses, but they can never
rob us of our education.” Gould himself said, “The capacity to
learn is always present. The inherent opposition to learning is
variable. Everyone has certain built-in defenses. Their rigidity
and influence is central.” Gould himself has no such defenses.
He says, “When I read something, I absorb it, pulverize it, cut
it up, use it here and there, so by the time I’m finished using it,
it no longer exists in its original form.”
   This is how learning is meant to be—active, passionate, and
personal. What you read should be grist for your own mill; you
should make it yours. One last word from Frances Hesselbein:
“If there’s anything I really believe in, it’s the joy of learning
and learning every day.”

                       Knowing the World


Travel is another kind of learning. All the clichés about it are true.
It does broaden. It is revelatory. It changes your perspective im-
mediately, because it requires new and different responses from
you. Things are done differently in other countries. People are
more relaxed, or less so, more reserved, or more volatile. Their
rituals vary. In Paris, many shops close down entirely in August.
In Spain, an afternoon siesta follows a long lunch, and dinner is
very late. Language is suddenly a barrier. The simplest transac-
tion can turn complex all of a sudden. A friend of mine once went
from London to Paris, and she was so preoccupied with re-
gearing her brain to figure in francs rather than pounds that she
said, “For twenty-four hours I couldn’t speak English or French.
I went into a tobacco shop and asked for quatorze packets of
Kents. The shopkeeper looked at me as if I were quite mad. Peo-
ple buy one or two or even ten packages of cigarettes, but they
don’t buy fourteen. I’d meant to say four packs, of course.”
   The extent to which travel broadens depends at least partly
on how much you give yourself to the experience. Those who
immerse themselves in a different culture are likely to learn
more than those who head for the Paris McDonald’s. At the
same time, there’s a difference between immersing oneself in a
new culture and “going native.” Sitting in Les Deux Magots
wearing a beret is not necessarily being a critical learner. If you
lose perspective on yourself and your own roots, you have
merely put on the garb of another culture. You need to keep
the sense of difference.
   Henry Thoreau wrote that one sees the world more clearly
if one looks at it from an angle. In a foreign land, one sees
everything from an angle. Thorsten Veblen theorized that

                    On Becoming a Leader

many Jews developed acute intelligence because they were per-
petual exiles. The stranger in a strange land sees more and sees
fresh. Being on the road not only requires the full deployment
of one’s self, it redeploys one, tests one’s strengths and weak-
nesses, and exposes new strengths and weaknesses. Our two
most sophisticated Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson and
Benjamin Franklin, were inveterate travelers, and both spent
much time in Europe. Those who travel farther from home
learn even more.
   Alfred Gottschalk learned the outsider’s lesson at an early
age: “I came to America as a refugee. I had no identity, or only
a negative identity. I was Jewish. I was German. I dressed
funny. I couldn’t speak the language, and I was poor—finan-
cially. But I graduated from Brooklyn Boys High with a 92 av-
erage, and I played football. I became independent very early.”
   As leaders have traditionally been travelers, they’ve also tra-
ditionally had rich private lives. They’ve been Sunday painters,
poets, even chefs, and they’ve always made time to reflect.
Joseph Campbell, the world’s foremost authority on mythol-
ogy, told Bill Moyers in an interview shortly before his death,
“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, when you
don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you
don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe
anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a
place where you can simply experience and bring forth what
you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative in-
cubation. At first, you may find that nothing happens there.
But if you have [such] a sacred place and use it, something
eventually will happen.”
   Whether one chooses a daily retreat or a formal sabbatical,
one has access to one’s soul, to one’s imagination, and one can

                      Knowing the World

truly reflect on one’s experience, and learn from it, and emerge
renewed and refreshed.


As much as we each need such regular respite, we need true
engagement too; we need mentors and friends and groups of
allied souls. I know of no leader in any era who hasn’t had at
least one mentor: teachers who found things in them they
didn’t know were there, parents or older siblings, senior asso-
ciates who showed them the way to be, or in some cases, not
to be, or demanded more from them than they knew they had
to give.
   When asked who had inspired him, Jamie Raskin said, “The
people I’ve admired most are the people I know or know of his-
torically who’ve been able to see seemingly unrelated things
coming together. One of my favorite people was Martin
Luther King. Something I read by him when I was a kid had
such an effect on me. He said that all life was interrelated, all
humanity part of one process, and to the degree that I harm my
brother, to that extent I am harming myself. A lot of leadership
is based on the ability to see how all humanity is related, how
all parts of society are related, and how things move in the
same direction. My father has this quality, too. He’s able to
make those kinds of connections and see the humanity in
everyone. . . . My dad taught me how to think and my mom
taught me how to write.”
   Aviator Brooke Knapp said, “I learned my sense of quality
and performance from my grandmother, the matriarch of the
family. It was she who demanded that I finish college.”

                    On Becoming a Leader

   Former college president Alfred Gottschalk learned from
many sources. “I learned how to cook and sew and clean from
my mother, and I worked during the summers as a waiter in the
Catskills. My father died when I was 16, so I was required to
learn courage early. . . . My mentors would include my father,
my mother, my rabbi, and my football coach. The football
team was made up of Irish and blacks and Italians and Poles,
and they were my family. That’s where, in a sense, I became an
American, and where I learned that you must never quit.”
   Roger Gould’s mentors came from the university. He said, “I
had forty cousins, and I was the only one of us who went to col-
lege. They were affluent, but they put absolutely no premium
on education. They valued wiles, street smarts, never educa-
tion. So I faced a blank screen . . . no preconceptions, restric-
tions, or restraints. I was very inspired by the classics. They
were my transition into another life, my own private under-
ground, which I could appreciate by myself and never talk to
anyone about. In my first semester in college, it was as if some-
one had opened a great big candy store of ideas, and it was all
up for grabs. A professor of philosophy immediately became
my intellectual father. I decided I wanted to be a philosopher,
and therefore I had to know everything.”
   Former CalFed CEO Robert Dockson found his principal
mentors and models entirely in books. “My mentors were peo-
ple I read about, such as Richard Byrd, the explorer, rather
than people I knew. I was just terribly inspired by Byrd. I don’t
envy any man and I haven’t tried to emulate anyone—except
on the golf course.”
   Friends offer inspiration and encouragement, and more.
Then AAUW head Anne Bryant told me, “Friends are vital.
You learn from them, because they tell you the truth.”

                      Knowing the World

   Barbara Corday’s writing partner was also her best friend.
She said, “Barbara Avedon and I had a great partnership. My
daughter used to say that what we did for a living was laugh,
because every time she called the office we were laughing. For
eight or nine years we were not only collaborators and part-
ners, we were best friends. We raised our children together,
and went on vacations together, and our families were very
close. It happened coincidentally to be in the early days of the
women’s movement, and I think that was an interesting time to
go through together. We each went through a divorce and a re-
marriage with the other, we each went through the child rear-
ing with the other. We really had a very special time. And I
loved it.”
   Given this, it seems fitting that the Corday-Avedon relation-
ship produced “Cagney and Lacey,” the long-running and
highly acclaimed TV series about a pair of policewomen who
were close friends as well as partners. The series was not only
the first hit show to feature female buddies, but the first cop
show to focus as much on the personal lives of its protagonists
as on their work.
   During John Sculley’s tenure at Apple, he found both inspi-
ration and friendship in his own field from Alan Kay, one of the
polymath gurus of the computer age. “Alan Kay is sort of my
spiritual leader,” Sculley said. “He doesn’t look like a leader or
dress like a leader, but if you believe in the power of ideas, he’s
a fountainhead, a wonderfully inventive person who’s able to
skip across an intellectual landscape comprising many disci-
plines.” Computer whiz Kay played a kind of Merlin to Scul-
ley’s Arthur.
   Groups, gatherings of friends or associates, sometimes sim-
ply sustain and encourage their members, as with old school

                     On Becoming a Leader

friends, army buddies, business pals. But sometimes they make
history, as with FDR’s brain trust, Eisenhower’s general staff,
John Kennedy’s Irish Mafia, the Bloomsbury writers, and the
Bauhaus designers.
   J. Robert Oppenheimer, Jr., directed what has been called
the most exclusive club in the world at Los Alamos, New Mex-
ico, in the early years of World War II. Oppenheimer said of
the scientists who gathered to develop the atomic bomb, “It
was a remarkable community inspired by a high sense of mis-
sion, of duty and of destiny . . . coherent . . . dedicated . . . and
remarkably unselfish . . . devoted to a common purpose.”
   Former Johnson & Johnson CEO Jim Burke told me of a
very different but equally remarkable group of friends, all of
whom achieved extraordinary success in business: “My six clos-
est friends in the world all became close friends at Harvard
Business School. I think I have more close friends than most
people, and I made most of them there. A lot of it came out of
the bonding of our values. We also were alike in wanting to
work very hard, and we were all excited about the opportunities
to do something with our lives . . . . Our lives are all wound up
with each other. There is in fact a value system that runs
through us all, and we view the world in identical terms. On
top of that, we have a helluva lot of fun.”


Study, travel, people, work, play, reflection, all are sources of
knowledge and understanding, but so, curiously, are mistakes.
John Cleese, who, in addition to his memorable comic turns in
movies and with Monty Python, writes and produces equally

                      Knowing the World

memorable business training films, said, “It’s self-evident that if
we can’t take the risk of saying or doing something wrong, our
creativity goes right out the window. . . . The essence of cre-
ativity is not the possession of some special talent, it is much
more the ability to play.”
   He continued, “In organizations where mistakes are not al-
lowed, you get two types of counterproductive behavior. First,
since mistakes are ‘bad,’ if they’re committed by the people at
the top, the feedback arising from those mistakes has to be ig-
nored or selectively reinterpreted, in order that those top peo-
ple can pretend that no mistake has been made. So it doesn’t
get fixed. Second, if they’re committed by people lower down
in the organization, mistakes get concealed.”
   The leaders I talked with are far from believing that mis-
takes are “bad.” They not only believe in the necessity of
mistakes, they see them as virtually synonymous with growth
and progress.
   Former Lucky Stores executive Don Ritchey said, “Even if
you’re pretty analytical by nature, you have to be willing to
make a decision somewhere short of certainty. You just haven’t
got the time or the resources, even if it was possible to actually
get that last finite piece of information that lets you deal with
certainty. You have to get 80 or 85 percent of it and then take
your best shot and go on to something else. That means you’ll
blow it now and then, but you also develop a momentum and a
pace that gets to be exciting.”
   Like Barbara Corday, leaders don’t always see “failures” as
mistakes. “My favorite project,” she said, “a TV series called
‘American Dream,’ had a lot of things to say, was executed bril-
liantly, written and acted well, and produced beautifully. It was
a critical success, but for whatever reason, the public chose not

                     On Becoming a Leader

to watch it, and it lasted only five or six episodes. It was a flop,
but I don’t see it as a failure. So it also wasn’t a mistake. Mis-
takes aren’t failures either, and I don’t take them seriously. It’s
okay to make mistakes, as long as you make them in good con-
science and you’re doing the best you can at that moment. . . .
I’m not afraid to make a mistake, and I’m not afraid to say af-
terward, ‘Boy, that was a mistake. Let’s try something else.’ I
think that wins people over. Now, I don’t make mistakes pur-
posely to win people over, but when I make one, I admit it. I
can also say, ‘You have a better idea than I have. Let’s do your
idea.’ I don’t second-guess people. If I hire you to do some-
thing, I let you do it.”
   Jim Burke actually encouraged mistakes at Johnson & John-
son, saying, “I decided that what we needed more than any-
thing else was a climate that would encourage people to take
risks. . . . I started with the premise that we could accomplish
anything we wanted to accomplish, if the people around me
were permitted to do what they wanted to do. From the benefit
of hindsight, it was somewhat naive on my part, assuming that
anybody can do anything. On the other hand, I think many of
my successes are wrapped up in the same thing. If you believe
that growth comes from risk taking, that you can’t grow with-
out it, then it’s essential in leading people toward growth to get
them to make decisions, and to make mistakes.”
   Burke went on to tell of his own experience with a mistake:
“I once developed a new product that failed badly, and General
Johnson called me in, and I was sure he was going to fire me. I
had just come in late when his secretary called, and he was al-
ways in early. I can remember walking over to his office. . . .
Johnson said to me, ‘I understand you lost over a million dol-
lars.’ I can’t remember the exact amount. It seemed like a lot

                      Knowing the World

then. And I said, ‘Yes sir. That’s correct.’ So he stood up and
held out his hand. He said, ‘I just want to congratulate you. All
business is making decisions, and if you don’t make decisions,
you won’t have any failures. The hardest job I have is getting
people to make decisions. If you make that same decision
wrong again, I’ll fire you. But I hope you’ll make a lot of
others, and that you’ll understand there are going to be more
failures than successes.’”
   Sydney Pollack said, “When I work with inexperienced ac-
tors, I try to convince them that it’s not possible to make a mis-
take. I say the only way they can make a mistake is by trying
not to make a mistake, because that’ll create tension and ten-
sion will tie them up every time. . . . There is an enormous
timidity about trusting the impulse. One spends an awful lot of
time in life trying to get insurance beforehand that whatever
bit of behavior is going to happen is at best impressive, but at
the very least, acceptable and not foolish. A really good actor
has got to be capable of making an enormous fool out of him-
self. Otherwise, no original work gets done.”
   Trusting the impulse always leads to growth, although
sometimes through mistakes. Sometimes trusting the impulse
leads directly to brilliance. That kind of impulse—the blessed
impulse—we’ll return to in the next chapter.
   Horace B. Deets, executive director of AARP until he re-
tired in 2002, was equally emphatic about the need to establish
a tolerant culture. Now a senior advisor to the organization,
Deets said, “I try to encourage as much openness and contrary
views as possible. It’s important to encourage dissent and em-
brace error.”
   Shirley Hufstedler summed it up, saying, “If you haven’t
failed, you haven’t tried very hard.”

                     On Becoming a Leader

   There are lessons in everything, and if you are fully deployed,
you will learn most of them. Experiences aren’t truly yours
until you think about them, analyze them, examine them, ques-
tion them, reflect on them, and finally understand them. The
point, once again, is to use your experiences rather than being
used by them, to be the designer, not the design, so that experi-
ences empower rather than imprison.
   Entrepreneur Larry Wilson, a founder of innovative learning
centers who once described himself as a “game changer,” had a
crucial experience as a boy. “I learned about risk when I was
seven years old. I had just moved from Minneapolis to Little
Rock, and I was the littlest one in the class—boys and girls.
Even the desks were bigger. Worse, I was a slow runner and had
a Northern accent. These factors combined to put me in jeop-
ardy every noon hour. Every day the Civil War got replayed in
the school yard, and I kept losing. I was in a lot of pain.
   “One day the priest came to do catechism, and I suddenly
found myself jumping up in front of the class like Lawrence
Welk, trying to lead them in a chorus of ‘Sister Loves Father.’
You have to be Catholic to understand the magnitude of my
sin. In a matter of seconds, I went from being the class doormat
to class hero . . . . They just sat there with their mouths open. I
got into big trouble with the teacher [the nun], but the benefit
was incredible. I learned then that the risk is easily worth tak-
ing, for the incredible benefit.”
   Thus was an entrepreneur born from a painful experience in
a Little Rock parochial school classroom that might have
branded a less determined human being, might have caused
him to retire from the spotlight forever if he had assimilated it
differently. Wilson went on, “For most entrepreneurs, cer-
tainly for me, the primary pull is the vision. You are simply pas-

                        Knowing the World

sionately compelled to make it come about. I think that a com-
pelling vision combined with a unique ability to manage risk is
the magic behind successful entrepreneurs. It’s as if you already
handled the risk ahead of time in your mind, so you can go
where angels fear to tread, because you’ve already skipped
ahead to the gain.”
   Leaders, then, learn from their experiences. Learning from
experience means

   •   Looking back at your childhood and adolescence and us-
       ing what happened to you then to enable you to make
       things happen now, so that you become the master of
       your own life rather than its servant.
   •   Consciously seeking the kinds of experiences in the pres-
       ent that will improve and enlarge you.
   •   Taking risks as a matter of course, with the knowledge
       that failure is as vital as it is inevitable.
   •   Seeing the future—yours and the world’s—as an opportu-
       nity to do all those things you have not done and those
       things that need to be done, rather than as a trial or a test.

   How do you seize the opportunity? First you must use your
instincts to sense it, and then follow the “blessed impulse” that
arises. “Operating on Instinct” is where our story takes us next.

This page intentionally left blank
          Operating on Instinct
          Two things seemed pretty apparent to me. One was, that in order
          to be a [Mississippi River] pilot a man had got to learn more than
         any one man ought to be allowed to know; and the other was, that
            he must learn it all over again in a different way every 24 hours.

                                                  —Mark T    wain
                                            Life on the Mississippi

Life has never been simple and is growing more complex all
the time, yet we persist in attempting to reduce it to bumper-
sticker dimensions. The advocates of simplicity see reality as
mechanical, static, segmented, and rational, when it is, in fact,
organic, dynamic, whole, and ambiguous. They see relation-
ships as linear, sequential and serial, discrete, singular and in-
dependent, when they are, in fact, parallel and simultaneous,
connected, murky, multiple and interdependent. They are de-
terminists, believers in cause-and-effect, when, in fact, proba-
bility is the rule and the inevitable hardly ever happens. They
wear square hats, when they should try sombreros.

                     On Becoming a Leader

   Lest anyone feel overwhelmed by complexity, however, I’d
like to offer this thought from Carl Sagan’s The Dragons of Eden:

  We can imagine a universe in which the laws of nature are im-
  mensely more complex. But we do not live in such a universe.
  Why not? I think it may be because all those organisms who per-
  ceived their universe as very complex are dead. Those of our ar-
  boreal ancestors who had difficulty computing their trajectories
  as they brachiated from tree to tree did not leave many offspring.

   The universe may not be very complex, but it is, neverthe-
less, complex. And as I mentioned earlier, the social laws are
more complex and less certain than the natural ones. But de-
spite the complexity, we cannot stand still. We must continue
to swing from tree to tree, although the trees may be ideas, and
we may be using axons instead of arms to make the connec-
tions. We might want to take Alfred North Whitehead’s advice
here: “Seek simplicity, then distrust it.”
   It was the mechanistic view that produced the organiza-
tion man, and it was the organization man, as I have noted,
who ironically enough has caused many of the problems in
our organizations. It is the individual, operating at the peak
of his or her creative and moral powers, who will revive our
organizations, by reinventing both self and them.
   Recent research has made it clear that the geography of the
brain is not as strictly delineated as we once thought. But it is
still useful to think of American organizational life as a left-
brain culture, meaning logical, analytical, technical, controlled,
conservative, and administrative. We, to the extent we are its
products, are dominated and shaped by those same characteris-
tics. Our culture needs more right-brain qualities, needs to be

                     Operating on Instinct

more intuitive, conceptual, synthesizing, and artistic. And so,
of course, do we. As I talked with the people I interviewed for
this book, I was struck again and again by the fact that, what-
ever their occupations, they relied as much on their intuitive
and conceptual skills as on their logical and analytical talents.
These are whole-brained people, capable of using both sides of
their brain.
   In any corporation, managers serve as the left brain and the
research and development staff serves as the right brain, but the
CEO must combine both, must have both administrative and
imaginative gifts. One of the reasons that so few corporate exec-
utives have successfully made the leap from capable manager to
successful leader is that the corporate culture, along with society
as a whole, recognizes and rewards left-brain accomplishments
and tends to discount right-brain achievements. Bottom-line
thinking is a manifestation of left-brain dominance. Habits are
born in the left brain and unmade in the right.
   When Anne Bryant was executive director of the AAUW,
she used something she calls “the hot air balloon exercise” to
encourage her staff to think imaginatively. “You take people up
in an imaginary balloon and from up there you can see the en-
tire entity. Then you examine what you see, who you see, what
they’re doing, and what other things they might be doing. You
imagine, for instance, what might happen if you put $500,000
toward child development research or what might be done
about teen pregnancy.”
   Acknowledging the constant dilemma of organizations, and
the pull between left-brain habits and right-brain visions,
Richard Schubert, then CEO of the American Red Cross, told
me, “I’m constantly torn between the obvious need to support
the existing structure and the equally obvious need to change it.”

                     On Becoming a Leader

   As executive director of the Girl Scouts of the USA, Frances
Hesselbein saw social changes, including the increase in mi-
norities, and envisioned how her organization could prepare
for them: “So girls’ needs are changing, and we’re exploring
different ways to meet those needs and deliver our services. I’m
establishing a center for innovation. It isn’t a place. It’s people
and a concept. The team . . . will work directly with Girl Scout
Councils in developing models through which we can reach
highly diverse communities and locate and train indigenous
leadership, which will be increasingly important.”
   Bryant, Schubert, and Hesselbein each took a whole-brain
approach in leading their nonprofit organizations out of tradi-
tional patterns and into innovative modes. Not coincidentally,
all three of them had been previously successful in the private
sector and made major career changes in midlife. And all three
said they’d never done anything that they enjoyed as much as
their nonprofit assignments. Schubert said succinctly, “This is
the most exciting, challenging thing I’ve ever done.”
   Scientist Mathilde Krim, who also moved from the private
to the public sector, said, “Growth requires curiosity to experi-
ence both the difference and the synchrony, to explore and im-
merse yourself in new surroundings, to be able to contemplate
your experiences and get something out of them.”
   A part of whole-brain thinking includes learning to trust
what Emerson called the “blessed impulse,” the hunch, the vi-
sion that shows you in a flash the absolutely right thing to do.
Everyone has these visions; leaders learn to trust them.
   I want to remind you here of something Norman Lear said
regarding the profound influence that Emerson’s “Self Re-
liance” had on his growth as a leader: “Emerson talks about lis-
tening to that inner voice and going with it, all voices to the

                      Operating on Instinct

contrary. I don’t know when I started to understand that there
was something divine about that inner voice—I certainly didn’t
in high school, college, or even in young manhood—but some-
where along the line, I appreciated that, too. How is it possible
that as a writer I can go to bed a thousand times with a second
act problem and wake up with the answer? Some inner voice.
To go with that—which I confess I don’t do all of the time—is
the purest, truest thing we have. And when we forgo our own
thoughts and opinions, they end up coming back to us from the
mouths of others. They come back with an alien majesty. . . .
So the lesson is, you believe it. When I’ve been most effective, I’ve
followed that inner voice.”
    Following the “blessed impulse” is, I think, basic to leader-
ship. This is how guiding visions are made real. But the need
for other right-brain qualities came up again and again in my
    Author and feminist leader Gloria Steinem said of being an
entrepreneur, “It helps if you’re a nonlinear thinker. And it
takes a certain amount of persuasion, which means empa-
thy. . . . Entrepreneurs always seemed to me like the artists of
the business world, because we put together things that
haven’t gone together in the past.” She used similar words
when she talked about success: “To me, the model of progress
is not linear. Success is completing the full circle of yourself.”
    Herb Alpert described how he works this way: “I’m a right-
brain animal. I’m not a businessman in the traditional sense.
And I do a lot of buckshotting and I rely on my gut reaction.
When my shoulders feel tight, I know something’s off. I use my
body as a barometer. . . . I try to listen like a piece of Silly Putty
when someone plays me a song. I try to let my biases just blow
in the breeze. For the most part, I’m listening for the feeling.”

                    On Becoming a Leader

   That reliance on instinct has made Alpert a successful
recording star and an equally successful businessman. His long-
time partner in A&M Records Gil Friesen said of Alpert, “In-
stinctively he knows what’s right and what should be done. And
he has the ability to detach himself from time to time and look
and see and ask questions. He’s running his own career within
the framework of the company, which is an ideal scenario. As he
makes decisions, he reinvents his career.”
   Alpert believes that you need a vision of the future at the
same time that you’re dealing with the present. And Alpert be-
lieves in trust. In speaking of Friesen and A&M founding part-
ner, Jerry Moss, Alpert said, “The real motor of this company
is the basic trust that Jerry, Gil, and I have for each other, and
the trust that artists have for us. They say they’re more com-
fortable and more inspired because our people care about what
they’re doing. Also, we’re a privately owned and independent
label, so we’re able to move quickly.”
   Friesen continued, “I can’t tell you how important that word
independent is, how important it is to our staff and to the
artists. It has a kind of magic about it.” Then he added with a
smile, “And we never refer to our recordings or our artists as
‘product,’ because we think it’s demeaning.”
   As Apple CEO John Sculley encouraged diversity of opinion
around him, and went with vision over market research. “One
of the biggest mistakes a person can make is to put together a
team that reflects only him. I find it’s better to put teams to-
gether of people who have different skills and then make all
those disparate skills function together. The real role of the
leader is to figure out how you make diverse people and ele-
ments work together.
   “Often people don’t know what they want and can’t describe
it until they see it. If we’d done market research on the Macin-

                     Operating on Instinct

tosh prior to its introduction, and asked people to describe the
ideal personal computer, they would have come up with some-
thing entirely different. But when we show people the Macin-
tosh and say, ‘Is this what you want?’ they say, ‘Yes.’ You have
to be able to make the abstract recognizable, because only then
can people accept or reject it.”
   As an academic administrator, Alfred Gottschalk looked for
right-brain characteristics when he hired. “I first look for char-
acter, whether the individual can inspire trust. Then I look for
imagination and perseverance, steadfastness of purpose. If, for
example, I am engaging somebody who is going to be the chief
controller of the institution, and I see that as an undergraduate
he had difficulty with intermediate algebra or calculus, and he
nevertheless manages to go into accounting, I wonder what
kind of a financial imagination he has. I try to find out as much
as I can about the individual, and then a largely intuitive deci-
sion is made. I have to feel right about the person.”
   Right-brain characteristics come in handy even when you’re
dealing with things, not people. Mathilde Krim talked about
the importance of instinct in her early work: “I always had a
good instinct for biological problems. I don’t remember ever
having worked at something that fizzled into nothing. . . . I
could recognize a chromosome. One time a colleague said that
he had isolated a new cell line from a dog. And I looked at it
and saw immediately that it wasn’t a dog cell. I could tell that
it was a rat cell just by looking at the chromosomes, and I was
right, because we did cellulogical tests afterwards. In the case
of prenatal diagnosis, it was obvious to me from the begin-
ning, the first time I looked at the lymphatic cells, that there
was a difference between male and female cells, so then we
studied it systematically. At the time it made quite a splash in
the press, but it was a very simple kind of work to do.”

                     On Becoming a Leader

    For Krim, who had the vision and trusted her instincts, it
was a very simple kind of work to do. But it had never been
done before.
    The leaders I spoke with believed also in the importance of
luck, but they put a particular spin on it, one reminiscent of
Vince Lombardi’s dictum that luck is a combination of prepara-
tion and opportunity. Former Johnson & Johnson CEO Jim
Burke is best known for how ably he dealt with the discovery
that bottles of Tylenol had been tampered with. Burke, who
described himself as an “intuitive, instinctive person” with an
overlay of logic, said of leadership positions, “A lot of luck oc-
curs to get people to these places. A lot of what happened in
my life was an accident. You wouldn’t be here talking to me if it
hadn’t been for Tylenol. I happened to be exquisitely prepared
for that problem—by accident, though.”
    Then Boston prosecutor Jamie Raskin also spoke of luck and
preparation. “The general advice I would have for people
about leadership is to find out what’s truest in yourself and stick
to it. But I really believe in the role of luck in human affairs.
Machiavelli said that fortune favors the bold. I think the pre-
pared mind is basically the same thing as the bold, but fortune
is in there. Napoleon said that of all the qualities his lieu-
tenants had, the one he most favored was luck. Luck continues
to intervene at every point in your life.”
    Sydney Pollack described right-brain leadership best, when
he said that it comes out of “a certain kind of controlled free
association. All art comes out of that. We say daydreams, we
say inspiration, but scientifically what it is, is free association.
It’s the ability to be in touch with that. That’s where you get
the ideas. And then it’s the ability to trust the ideas once you
have them, even though they may break certain rules. And then

                     Operating on Instinct

it’s the confidence and courage to carry out the ideas once
you’ve found them and once you’ve trusted them. Then you
can’t be afraid to fail. Otherwise it’s just imitative. Otherwise
you go to leadership school, and try to pitch your voice the
same way that the boss did there, and have your office deco-
rated the same way his is, and that’s not real leadership. Real
leadership probably has more to do with recognizing your own
uniqueness than it does with identifying your similarities.”
    Pollack told me a story that illustrates marvelously the
“blessed impulse” of leadership. “Years ago, I did a film with
Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford called The Way We Were.
Streisand played a character who wanted desperately to be a
writer, who worked very, very hard at it, but nothing came eas-
ily to her. Redford played a character where everything came
easy. He was a kind of a prince. He had no particular aspira-
tions to be a writer, but he happened to be good and talented.
She had worked and struggled and worked and struggled in her
writing class to do a very serious paper, a little short story. And
the professor chose that day to read Redford’s story. It just dev-
astated her. She ran out of the classroom, and the scene called
for her to run to a trash basket, rip up her story, throw it in the
trash basket, and just sob.
    “I had set up the shot so that the camera was at the trash bas-
ket pointing toward a tree behind which she was standing, so
that when I would call, ‘Action,’ she would emerge running from
behind this tree, run toward the camera, straight at us, throw the
story in the trash basket, and I would move into her face when
she leaned against the trash basket and cried. The first assistant
director on the picture, Howard Koch, Jr., had been the first
A.D. on her previous picture, Up the Sandbox. Howard came to
me while we were working on the scene and said, ‘You know,

                    On Becoming a Leader

she’s very nervous.’ I asked why. He said, ‘She’s very uptight be-
cause she thinks she can’t cry. She had some terrible problems
crying in Up the Sandbox, and in her head she equates that with
being a bad actress, so she’s very nervous.’
   “We have a device in the picture business, little ammonia
crystals that go into a little test tube with holes in the bottom
like a salt shaker and gauze over the front end. The makeup
man blows in it, and the ammonia aroma comes out and gets in
your eyes and makes tears. It makes your eyes bloody and it
stinks, but it works for film. Barbra had the makeup man be-
hind the tree. I said to Howard, ‘I don’t believe she can’t cry.
Anybody who sings the way she sings can cry. You stay here. I
will go behind the tree. When I wave my hands, you roll the
   “I went back to the tree, and I found Barbra pacing. The
makeup man was there with his test tube, and I sent him away.
She got alarmed and said, ‘Where are you going? Wait, wait,
what are you doing?’ I said, ‘Just relax. Just relax.’ I went over
and I put my arms around her, and the minute I put my arms
around her, she just started to sob. And I waved my hand, and
he rolled the camera, and around the tree she went.
   “Now, I didn’t say anything to her. I didn’t think up some
wonderful piece of direction to give her. But I knew that there
was juice going on in her, and she was just too tense to let it
come out. She had built it all up in her mind, and something
touched her when I put my arms around her. Something just
made her let loose. And she cried all the way through the pic-
ture. You can say, ‘How did you think of it? What made you
know what would work?’ To tell you the truth, I didn’t have
the faintest idea what I was going to do when I sent away the
makeup man. I just was so convinced that she could cry, be-
cause I had seen so much emotion in her work, and I knew

                      Operating on Instinct

her to be a very emotional woman, and I had no idea what to
do—and then the impulse. I don’t know where the impulse to
hug her came from.
   “Now where did the impulse happen? Did it happen on the
walk to the tree? I don’t think so. I don’t think the impulse hap-
pened until I saw her. What does it represent in terms of prob-
lem solving? It represented a very efficient and quick solution
at the time, probably better than a lot of talk, or a lot of saying,
‘Well, think about the time something bad happened to you.’ If
I had come near her and said, ‘Look, I know you can do this, I
believe in you,’ she would have said, ‘Get out of here!’ That
would have just put more pressure on her. I think what hap-
pened was—and I’m guessing—that she felt a sense of real sup-
port, and that touched her. I think that moment was a simple,
emotional thing, that somebody was really on her side, and it
touched her, and that’s all.”
   These leaders have proved not only the necessity but the
efficacy of self-confidence, vision, virtue, plain guts, and re-
liance on the blessed impulse. They have learned from every-
thing, but they have learned more from experience, and even
more from adversity and mistakes. And they have learned to
lead by leading.
   Grace under pressure might be this group’s motto. None be-
gan life with an edge. Some began with genuine handicaps. All
have risen to the top because leaders are made, and made by
themselves. To quote Wallace Stevens, they have lived “in the
world, but outside of existing conceptions of it.” And they have
made new worlds, because they themselves are, each and every
one, originals. They have worn sombreros.
   They would say themselves that they can teach you nothing,
but they have shown you the ways to learn everything you need
to know.

                      On Becoming a Leader

   No leader sets out to be a leader. People set out to live their
lives, expressing themselves fully. When that expression is of
value, they become leaders.
   So the point is not to become a leader. The point is to be-
come yourself, to use yourself completely—all your skills, gifts,
and energies—in order to make your vision manifest. You must
withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you
started out to be, and to enjoy the process of becoming.
   Henry James, midway through a life filled with writing mar-
velous novels, wrote in his Notebooks,

  I have only to let myself go! So I have said to myself all my life—
  so I said to myself in the far-off days of my fermenting and pas-
  sionate youth. Yet I have never fully done it. The sense of it—of
  the need of it—rolls over me at times with commanding force: it
  seems the formula of my salvation, of what remains to me of a
  future. I am in full possession of accumulated resources—I have
  only to use them, to insist, to persist, to do something more—to
  do much more than I have done. The way to do it—to affirm
  one’s self sur la fin—is to strike as many notes, deep, full and
  rapid, as one can. All life is—at my age, with all one’s artistic soul
  the record of it—in one’s pocket, as it were. Go on, my boy, and
  strike hard. . . . Try everything, do everything, render every-
  thing—be an artist, be distinguished to the last.

   James’s major novels were written after this self-exhortation.
So strike hard, try everything, do everything, render every-
thing, and become the person you are capable of being.

               Deploying Yourself:
                 Strike Hard, Try
                   There is a self, and what I have sometimes referred to as
            “listening to the impulse voices” means letting the self emerge.
             Most of us, most of the time (and especially does this apply to
           children, young people), listen not to ourselves but to Mommy’s
                    introjected voice or Daddy’s voice or to the voice of the
                  Establishment, of the Elders, of authority, or of tradition.

                                         —Abraham Maslow
                              Farther Reaches of Human Nature

“Letting the self emerge” is the essential task for leaders. It is
how one takes the step from being to doing in the spirit of ex-
pressing, rather than proving. The means of expression dis-
cussed in this chapter unfold from one another as the opening
petals of a flower.
   Suppose you were required, as a child, to recite a poem in
front of your class. You forgot the second verse, were scolded
by your teacher, and laughed at by your classmates, and ever
since you’ve broken into a cold sweat at the thought of speak-
ing in public.

                     On Becoming a Leader

   Now you’ve been offered a job that requires making regular
speeches to large groups. You want the job very much, but your
fear of public speaking prevents you from accepting it immedi-
ately. In other words, your feeling of fear overpowers your con-
fidence in your ability to do the job and prevents you from
acting. You have three choices:

   •   You can surrender to your fears and pass on the job.
   •   You can attempt to analyze your fear objectively (but as
       analyst Roger Gould points out, that will probably not
       result in any significant change).
   •   You can reflect on your original experience in a concrete
       way. You were, after all, a child. And you probably didn’t
       like the poem very much, so it was hard to memorize. But
       most important, although you got scolded and laughed at,
       your life was not changed in any significant way by the
       lapse. Neither your grades nor your standing with your
       classmates suffered. Indeed, everyone forgot your lapse
       immediately—except you. You have clung to that feeling
       all these years, without ever thinking about it. Now is the
       time to think about it.


Reflection is a major way in which leaders learn from the past.
Jim Burke told me, “At Holy Cross, studying with the Jesuits, I
had to take twenty-eight hours of scholastic philosophy, which
forces you through a logical, disciplined way of thinking. I’ve
often felt this was very important to my business success, be-
cause I was naturally intuitive and instinctive, so this overlay of

      Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything

logic was useful. It helped me get through Harvard Business
School, which reinforced it. Most of what I’ve done in business
is to look at something and say, ‘That’s the way to go.’ Then I
pull myself back and subject it to a very rigorous logic. I’m
much more inclined to emotionally arrive at a decision than I
am to use logical resources, and the blend has caused me to be
reflective. Also, I’ve always felt that society lacks philosophers.
We ought to have people who dedicate their lives just to think-
ing. We have plenty of economists, and we have all the sciences
covered, but only a handful of thinkers. So maybe that makes
me reflective. But I think of myself as an activist.”
   In fact, what we do is a direct result of not only what and
how we think, but what and how we feel as well. Roger Gould
agreed: “It’s how you feel about things that dictates how you
behave. Most people don’t process their feelings, because
thinking is hard work. And abstract thinking doesn’t usually
lead to a change in behavior. It leads to conflict about change. I
use two analytic skills in everything. One is perspective—I al-
ways like multiple frames of reference. And I always look for
the heart of the issue, the core.”
   Reflection may be the pivotal way we learn. Consider some
of the ways of reflecting: looking back, thinking back, dreaming,
journaling, talking it out, watching last week’s game, asking for
critiques, going on retreats—even telling jokes. Jokes are a way
of making whatever-it-was understandable and acceptable.
   Freud said that the goal of analysis is to make the uncon-
scious conscious. He talks about the importance of anniver-
saries, for example—the number of men who die on the same
day their fathers died. The anniversary had remained trapped in
the unconscious, never reflected on. The wound experienced on
the day had never been given air and allowed to heal. Reflection

                     On Becoming a Leader

is a way of making learning conscious. Reflection gets to the
heart of the matter, the truth of things. After appropriate reflec-
tion, the meaning of the past is known, and the resolution of the
experience—the course of action you must take as a result—
becomes clear. I like the word resolution, by the way, and tend to
use it in two of its several meanings: a course of action decided
upon, and an explanation or solution. And resolution has a musi-
cal overtone that I like as well: the progression of a dissonant
chord to a consonant one.
   On the subject of reflection, Barbara Corday said, “Unfortu-
nately, too often it’s people’s failures that get them to reflect on
their experiences. When you’re going along and everything is
working well, you don’t sit down and reflect. Which is exactly
the moment when you should do it. If you wait for a giant mis-
take before you reflect, two things happen. One, since you’re
down, you don’t get the most out of it, and two, you tend only
to see the mistake, instead of all the moments in which you’ve
also been correct.”
   It’s true. Most of us are shaped more by negative experiences
than by positive ones. A thousand things happen in a week to
each of us, but most of us remember the few lapses rather than
our triumphs, because we don’t reflect. We merely react. Play-
wright Athol Fugard said that he worked his way out of a depres-
sion by starting every day thinking of ten things that gave him
pleasure. I’ve found thinking of the things in my life that bring
me pleasure a peaceful and positive way to start the morning,
and I’ve started doing it regularly. Thinking of the small pleas-
ures around one—the glow of the morning light on the ocean,
the fresh-cut roses next to the word processor, the tall café latte
waiting at the end of a morning walk, even the dog that wants to
be fed—is a much better way to deal with a perceived failure

      Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything

than to ruminate on it. When you’re down, think of the things
you have to look forward to. When you are no longer in the grip
of the mishap, then you are ready to reflect on it.
   In fact, mistakes contain potent lessons—but only if we
think them through calmly, see where we went wrong, men-
tally revise what we’re doing, and then act on the revisions.
When a great batter strikes out, he doesn’t linger for a moment
over the goof, but instead sets about to improve his stance or
his swing. And great batters do strike out—Babe Ruth not only
set a home run record, he set a strikeout record as well. Think
what a great batting average is: .400—which means a great bat-
ter fails to get a hit more than half the time. Most of the rest of
us are paralyzed by our failures, large and small. We’re so
haunted by them, so afraid that we’re going to goof again, that
we become fearful of doing anything. When jockeys are
thrown, they get back on the horse, because they know if they
don’t, their fear may immobilize them. When an F–14 pilot has
to eject, he or she goes up the next day in another plane. Most
of us have lesser fears to face—but most of us have to cope with
them through thought, before we act again. Reflection comes
first, and then strategic action. As Roger Gould phrased it, re-
flection permits us to process our feelings, understand them,
resolve our questions, and get on with our work. Wordsworth
defined poetry as strong emotion recollected in tranquillity.
That’s the time to reflect, in tranquillity—and then to resolve.
   The point is not to be the victims of our feelings, jerked this
way and that by unresolved emotions, not to be used by our expe-
riences, but to use them and to use them creatively. Just as writers
turn experiences from their lives into novels and plays, we can
each transform our experiences into grist for our mill. Isak Dine-
sen said, “Any sorrow can be borne if we can put it in a story.”

                      On Becoming a Leader

Your accumulated experience is the basis for the rest of your life,
and that base is solid and sound to the degree that you have re-
flected on it, understood it, and arrived at a workable resolution.
   Gloria Steinem, like many pioneers, has made a vocation of
venturing into uncharted, untested waters. Her approach is di-
rect: “I’m not very reflective. I work out whatever it is by acting
or doing or saying it. It’s the Midwest in me. In the Midwest, in-
trospection is practically forbidden. As a result, I’m future ori-
ented, which isn’t great, because you can only live in the present,
not the future. . . . There are learning moments. I think things
happen over and over again, and we learn in a spiral, not a
straight line . . . and then one day we get it. So I don’t have the
sensation of reflecting or examining. I have the sensation of,
‘Oh, that’s why.’ If you’ve experienced the dynamic before, you
sort of understand when it’s happening again. There’s a plateau
for a long time, and then a sudden leap forward, and then an-
other plateau. I think of those leaps as learning moments. But I
think you often know things intellectually before you understand
them emotionally. I wrote a piece about my mother that I can’t
read, because now I understand it, and it makes me too sad.”
   As both Steinem and Gould have said, too much intellectu-
alizing tends to paralyze us. But true reflection inspires, in-
forms, and ultimately demands resolution. Steinem leaps first
and looks or reflects later. There is something to be said for
that headlong approach, but only if you are able to see mis-
takes, failures, as a basic and vital part of life. Most of us, unfor-
tunately, aren’t that wise or that cool-headed. It is the pioneers
like Steinem, the ones who head straight for the unmapped
territory marked only by the legend “Here there be tygers,”
who believe so much in what they’re doing that they accept the
risks inherent in such undertakings as part of the job.

      Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything

   To do anything well requires knowing what it is that you’re
doing, and you can only know what you’re really doing by
making the process conscious—reflecting on yourself, reflect-
ing on the task, and coming to a resolution.
   As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, Erik Erikson sees our
development as a series of resolved conflicts, one for each stage
of life. He further postulates that until each conflict is resolved
positively, we cannot move to the next stage or conflict.
   These conflicts are so basic, and resolving them is so vital,
that I’ve come to see them in much broader terms and a more
general frame than Erikson’s. We are subject to these conflicts
all of our lives, and the way we resolve them determines how
we will live. Here is how I would reframe them:

      Conflicts                              Resolutions

      Blind trust vs. Suspicion              Hope
      Independence vs. Dependence            Autonomy
      Initiative vs. Imitation               Purpose
      Industry vs. Inferiority               Competence
      Identity vs. Confusion                 Integrity
      Intimacy vs. Isolation                 Empathy
      Generosity vs. Selfishness              Maturity
      Illusion vs. Delusion                  Wisdom

   Physicist Neils Bohr said, “There are two kinds of truth,
small truth and great truth. You can recognize a small truth be-
cause its opposite is a falsehood. The opposite of a great truth
is another truth.”
   Our lives are made less of small truths and falsehoods than
of great truths and the truths that are their opposites, which is

                    On Becoming a Leader

why the resolution of these basic conflicts is so difficult some-
times. It’s almost never a choice between a right and a wrong.
For example, hope lies somewhere between blind trust and sus-
picion, but so does its opposite, despair. And wisdom usually
follows illusion, delusion, and disillusion.
   Once you have learned to reflect on your experiences until
the resolution of your conflicts arises from within you, then
you begin to develop your own perspective.


John Sculley touched on the need for perspective: “It’s impor-
tant to change your perspective, maybe by living or traveling
extensively abroad. Shifting your stance changes you. You take
the same set of facts and shift the vantage point and everything
looks different. One of the things leaders have to be good at is
perspective. Leaders don’t necessarily have to invent ideas, but
they have to be able to put them in context and add perspec-
tive. . . . What I look for in people is the ability to transform
their experience into ideas and to put those ideas in context.”
   What is your perspective? The following questions should
give you some idea.

  1. When you consider a new project, do you think first of its
     cost or its benefits?
  2. Do you rank profit or progress first?
  3. Would you rather be rich or famous?
  4. If offered a promotion that required you to move to an-
     other city, would you discuss it with your family before
     accepting it?

      Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything

  5. Would you rather be a small fish in a big pond, or a big
     fish in a small pond?

   Your answers will reveal something important about your
perspective. If you think first of the cost of a project or rank
profit higher than progress, then your perspective is short-
term. A person who would rather be famous than rich is the
more ambitious because—unless you’re in show biz—fame
requires more talent and originality than the making of a
fortune. If you would discuss a promotion with your family
before accepting it, you’re more humane than ambitious. And
if you’d rather be a big fish in a small pond, you may lack drive
(or you may simply agree with Julius Caesar, who is reputed to
have said, “I would rather be first in a small Iberian village
than second in Rome”).
   Perspective is no more and no less than how you see things,
your particular frame of reference. Without it, you’re flying
blind. But it’s also your point of view, and as Marvin Minsky, a pi-
oneer in artificial intelligence, said, point of view is worth 80 I.Q.
points. Marty Kaplan told me, “I think one of the reasons for the
fame or notoriety of this studio [Disney] is that the people who
run it have a very strong point of view, which I guess I would add
to leadership. . . . To the outside world we couch a rejection in
subjective terms. ‘Gosh, we just didn’t like it.’ But inside the
company, a decision is not viewed as a kind of soft, mushy, rela-
tivistic thing. We have a viewpoint, and a project either works
with our viewpoint or doesn’t work with our viewpoint.”
   If you know what you think and what you want, you have a
very real advantage. In this era of experts, when we have nu-
tritionists to fine-tune our diets, turn family dogs over to pro-
fessional trainers and even pet psychologists, and bring in

                     On Becoming a Leader

consultants on any major decision, a point of view is not only
rare, but valuable. Establishing a pattern that would survive
his own demise, the late Morton Downey, Jr., became rich and
famous almost overnight by becoming the Archie Bunker of
late–twentieth-century talk show hosts. It’s not so much that
people liked his biased, rude, macho act (although some obvi-
ously did), it’s that they responded to the fact that he had a
point of view and that he expressed it without apology. Like
the steady stream of bigoted but confident radio and TV pun-
dits that followed him, Downey was admired not so much for
what he said, but that he said anything at all.
   I am not for a moment suggesting that you emulate televi-
sion and talk radio’s narrow-minded big mouths. In fact, I’d
rather you didn’t—we have more than enough already. I am
suggesting that anyone who wants to express him- or herself
fully and truly must have a point of view. Leadership without
perspective and point of view isn’t leadership—and of course it
must be your own perspective, your own point of view. You
cannot borrow a point of view any more than you can borrow
someone else’s eyes. It must be authentic, and if it is, it will be
original, because you are an original.
   Once you master the arts of reflection, understanding, and
resolution, perspective and point of view will follow. Your next
task is to figure out what to do with all that.


Some people are born knowing what they want to do, and even
how to do it. The rest of us aren’t so lucky. We have to spend
some time figuring out what to do with our lives. Vague goals,

      Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything

such as “I just want to be happy” or “I want to live well” or “I
want to make the world a better place” or even “I want to be
very, very rich,” are nearly useless. But so are overly specific
goals, such as “I want to be chairman of the XYZ Corporation”
or “I want to be a nuclear physicist” or “I want to discover a
cure for the common cold,” because they leave out all the other
values in life.
   Jamie Raskin told me, “One of my heroes is a professor at
Harvard Law School named Derek Bell. He told me that it’s
important not to have any specific ambitions or desires. It’s
more important to have ambitions in terms of the way you
want to live your life, and then the other things will flow out of
   What do you want? The majority of us go through life, of-
ten very successfully, without ever asking, much less answering,
this most basic question.
   The most basic answer, of course, is that you want to express
yourself fully, for that is the most basic human drive. As one
friend put it, “We all want to learn how to use our own voices,”
and it has led some of us to the peaks and some of us to the
   How can you best express you?
   The first test is knowing what you want, knowing your abilities
and capacities, and recognizing the difference between the two.
   Gloria Anderson said, “I always felt it wasn’t right to be like
everyone else. I thought I had to meet different standards and
do different things.” Journalism was an obvious choice of ex-
pression for her, because journalists, by definition, stand apart
from other people. As reporters, they cover the action, rather
than taking part in it, and as editors, they have the opportunity
to speak out on issues they believe in.

                    On Becoming a Leader

   Anne Bryant was first chosen by others. “In elementary
school,” she said, “I got awards for leadership activities, which
always surprised me. In high school, I was asked to be a leader.
Of course, I was taller than everyone else, so I sort of loomed
over everyone, which may have helped. But I never ran for
things. I do like taking charge of things. I always have.” Since
she likes “taking charge of things,” it’s not surprising that
Bryant became an executive and led an organization, the Amer-
ican Association of University Women, with 150,000 members
and assets of over $47 million, whose goals include promoting
equity for women, self-development, and positive social change.
   Betty Friedan was always an organizer. “In fifth grade, we
had a substitute teacher who didn’t like children, so I organ-
ized a club, the Baddy-Baddy Club, and at a signal from me,
everybody dropped their books on the floor and did other
things that would irritate the teacher. The principal called me
to his office and said, ‘You have a great talent for leadership.
You must use it for good, not evil.’ . . . In my adult profes-
sional life, I’m theoretically a writer, but I spend much time
on my political activity. I organized three of the key organiza-
tions of the women’s movement and then bowed out of active
   The second test is knowing what drives you, knowing what gives
you satisfaction, and knowing the difference between the two.
   Roger Gould said, “I remember dreaming every night about
how I was going to save everyone, not just me, but everyone. I
must have been 12 or 13 at the time.” So Gould grew up to be-
come a psychoanalyst, a kind of secular savior.
   Mathilde Krim needed to be useful: “I spent three summers
working on an isolated farm. It was horrible, but it gave me a
fantastic feeling of self-confidence. I thought if I could do that,
I could do anything. I did it because it was the right thing to do

      Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything

at the time, and I tried to do a good job of it, to be really useful,
but it was very hard.” This was a good start for someone who
went on to become a scientist and was a pioneer in the fight to
defeat AIDS. “I spend all my time on the AIDS issue now,” she
told me. “I’m incapable of doing anything else.”
   John Sculley’s route was slightly more circuitous, although
no less logical: “I’ve always had a sort of insatiable curiosity
about things, everything, electronics for a while, then art, then
art history and architecture, all sorts of stuff. When I get in-
terested in something, I become totally absorbed by it, and I
always run out of physical energy before my curiosity is satis-
fied. I never intended to become a businessman. That was the
furthest thing from my mind. I thought I’d be an inventor or
architect or designer. I was interested in visual things, and I
was always interested in ideas and comfortable with them—in
everything from calculus to architecture.” It’s hard to imagine
a better background for heading an innovative, design-savvy
technology firm such as Apple.
   The point of the first two tests is that once you recognize, or
admit, that your primary goal is to fully express yourself, you
will find the means to achieve the rest of your goals—given
your abilities and capacities, along with your interests and bi-
ases. On the other hand, if your primary aim is to prove your-
self, you’ll run into trouble sooner or later, as Ed, the lead
character in the cautionary tale in chapter one, did. The man
who follows his father into law or medicine in order to prove
himself, or the woman who decides to be a stockbroker to show
that she can make a lot of money, is playing the fool’s game and
will almost inevitably fail and/or be unhappy.
   The third test is knowing what your values and priorities are,
knowing what the values and priorities of your organization are, and
measuring the difference between the two.

                     On Becoming a Leader

    If you’ve found a way to express yourself fully and well, and
are reasonably satisfied with your pace and performance, but
you don’t feel you’ll get very far in your present position, it may
be that you’re in sync with yourself, but you’re out of sync with
your environment—your partner, company, or organization.
    Herb Alpert said, “I used to record for a major company.
And I didn’t like the way I was being treated. I was sort of being
fed through their computer. And it just seemed like they were
on the wrong track. . . . I had this spark of an idea for Tijuana
Brass, which involved overdubbing the trumpet, which I was
experimenting with in my own little garage studio at home.
They said it was impossible, that it violated union regulations,
because I’d be putting some musician out of work. Well, they
missed the point altogether. So I just decided that when I had
my own company, the artist would be the heartbeat of the com-
pany and his needs would come first.”
    Alpert and Jerry Moss went on to found A&M Records,
which is legendary for its fine treatment of artists, although their
then partner Gil Friesen said, “A&M has a certain reputation for
being artist oriented and having a sort of family atmosphere, but
it’s nothing we consciously do. It isn’t calculated. . . . Actually, I
think you do it by not doing it, by not managing very much.”
    Alpert’s decision to start his own company in order to create
the kind of environment he wanted to work in was as ultimately
sensible as it was seemingly radical: he and A&M became ma-
jor industry powers.
    In the same spirit, Gloria Anderson founded her own news-
paper. She said, “Miami Today was my first opportunity to do
things my way, and I’m very proud of it. But when I realized
that my partner didn’t share my vision and never would, I de-
cided to move on and do something on my own.”

      Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything

   Anne Bryant, on the other hand, recommends walking more
carefully. “Too often you come into a new job on a wave of
fresh energy and, not by design, you tend to debunk what’s
been previously done. That’s very hard on the people who’ve
been with the organization for a while. It’s better to try to put
yourself in their shoes and acknowledge the good things that
have been done and reinforce those things, before going for-
ward with your own plans. If the existing personnel feel sup-
ported and are made to feel a part of the new plans, they’re
   Being in sync with your organization is almost as important
as being in sync with yourself, in other words. Some leaders are
inevitably drawn to form their own organizations, while others,
like Bryant, prefer the path of accommodation.
   The fourth test is—having measured the differences between what
you want and what you’re able to do, and between what drives you
and what satisfies you, and between what your values are and what
the organization’s values are—are you able and willing to overcome
those differences?
   In the first instance, the issues are fairly basic. Almost every
one of us has, at one point in our lives, wanted to be an NFL
quarterback or a movie star or a jazz singer, but we simply
didn’t have the requisite equipment. And although I’ve said—
and believe—that you can learn anything you want to learn,
certain occupations require gifts beyond learning. I know a
highly successful radiologist who has always dreamed of being
a singer, but he has no voice. Instead of abandoning his dream,
he writes songs. A would-be quarterback who’s fast and smart,
but who weighs only 140 pounds, might well become a coach
or manager. Or he might organize a Saturday afternoon touch-
football league among his friends and co-workers.

                     On Becoming a Leader

   Whatever it is you want to do, you shouldn’t let fear get in
your way. Fear, for most leaders, is less a crippler than a moti-
vator. As Brooke Knapp said, “I started flying because I was
afraid of it. If you give not 90 percent or 95 percent but 100
percent, you can make anything happen. The greatest opportu-
nity for growth lies in overcoming things you’re afraid of.” She
went on to become one of America’s leading flyers.
   In the second instance, the issue is more complex. We all
know people who are driven to succeed, never mind at what or
how, who are never satisfied, and who are often unhappy. It is
entirely possible to succeed and satisfy yourself simultaneously,
but only if you are wise enough and honest enough to admit
what you want and recognize what you need.
   For the third instance I’ll refer again to that feckless fellow
Ed. If he had thought more about what he wanted and what his
company needed, he wouldn’t have driven himself off the track.
But he spent his energies doing and proving, not being. Some
corporate cultures are so rigid that they require absolute obedi-
ence to the corporate line. Others are flexible, adjustable, and
adaptable. By knowing the flex in yourself and the flex in the
organization, you’ll know whether you’re a fit or not.


Brooke Knapp said, “Some people are lucky enough to be born
with desire and the ability to make things happen. I’ve always
had a desire to achieve. It’s not calculated. It’s as natural as eat-
ing to me.”
   Former CalFed CEO Robert Dockson was lucky, too. “I
don’t think you can be taught dedication, purpose, and a sense
of vision,” he said. “I don’t know where that comes from.”

      Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything

   If Knapp is right, and desire is as natural as eating, then it
exists in all of us. And while Dockson may be right that it can’t
be taught, it can be activated. Virtually every one of us was
born with a hunger for life itself, with what I call a passion for
the promises of life, and that passion can take one to the
heights. Unfortunately, in too many of us, it devolves into
drive. Entrepreneur Larry Wilson defined the difference between
desire and drive as the difference between expressing yourself and
proving yourself. In a perfect world, everyone would be encour-
aged to express, but not required to prove him- or herself. But
neither the world nor we are perfect. In order to avoid booby-
trapping ourselves, then, we must understand that drive is
healthy only when married to desire.
   Drive divorced from desire is often hazardous, sometimes
lethal, while drive in the service of desire is often both produc-
tive and rewarding. Knapp, like the other leaders I spoke with,
has that passion for the promises of life, and the drive to real-
ize her passion. “I was raised with eight boys on my block,” she
said, “and I was stronger than all of them. I was the one with
the energy and enthusiasm and drive and determination, so I
became the leader.”
   Although she went through a docile period, her desire
emerged intact some years later. “I’m an entrepreneur in spirit,”
she told me. “I see a window of opportunity and take advantage
of it. Jet Airways [a company she founded that flies executives
around the country] happened almost by accident. Deregula-
tion had killed off a lot of small airlines, so corporations were
having a tough time getting their people into small towns, and I
wanted to buy a Lear Jet.” Her desire to have her own plane and
the need for cost-effective executive transportation were hap-
pily combined. Knapp remains restless and inventive. After
founding Jet Airways, she managed a securities portfolio and

                     On Becoming a Leader

became involved in the Florida citrus industry and with high-
end real estate in southern California.
   Barbara Corday credits her success partly to enthusiasm. “A
corporation, or a show, is only as strong as the caring and en-
thusiasm that the people who are involved in it on a daily basis
put into it. And I don’t think you can expect caring and enthu-
siasm from people you, the leader, don’t care about and are not
conscious of. . . . I think my enthusiasm is catching. I think
when I get on a project, if I love it, I can make you love it.”
   Jamie Raskin agreed that passion is infectious: “If you hold
your ground and make your conviction known, people will
come around. I’m committed to radical principles. As Oscar
Wilde said, ‘I’m on the left, which is the side of the heart, as
opposed to the right, which is the side of the liver.’”
   Gloria Anderson summed it up. “You can’t make being a
leader your principal goal, any more than you can make being
happy your goal. In both cases, it has to be the result, not the


When I asked Marty Kaplan to describe the qualities of lead-
ership, he said, “Competence, first. A true sense of mastery of
the task at hand. Another is the ability to articulate, because if
someone is a complete master of what they need to know, but
is unable to explain why I should care about it, or want to
help, then they can’t get me to support them. And something
I prefer to see in a leader, but isn’t essential, is a level of hu-
man sensitivity, tact, compassion, and diplomacy. I’ve known
leaders who have had none of it and nevertheless were lead-

      Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything

ers, but those who have had that quality have moved and in-
spired me more.”
   He’s right. “A true sense of mastery of the task at hand.” Lead-
ers haven’t simply practiced their vocation or profession. They’ve
mastered it. They’ve learned everything there is to know about it,
and then surrendered to it. For example, the late Fred Astaire
mastered the choreography, and then surrendered to it. He be-
came one with it, so it was impossible to say where he stopped
and the routine began. He was the routine. Franklin Roosevelt
mastered the presidency; Jimmy Carter was mastered by it.
   Such mastery requires absolute concentration, the full de-
ployment of oneself. Astaire had it. That’s what got our at-
tention before he did anything. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
galvanized America with a few words. He didn’t simply have a
dream, he was the dream, just as Magic Johnson was the Lakers
and Bill Gates is Microsoft.
   The Chinese practice something called wushu, which Mark
Salzman, an American writer who has lived in China, describes
as a means of achieving “perfect form and concentration.
[One’s] movements become instinctive and express a harmony
of mind and body that the Chinese believe is crucial to spiri-
tual as well as physical health. In classical wushu . . . the wushu-
jia devotes most of his training time to the practice of taolu, or
routines . . . choreographed sequences of movements, one to
twenty minutes in length, that must be carried out according
to strict esthetic, technical and conceptual guidelines. . . . An
unbroken thread of intent must exist between the movements
of a taolu, like the invisible line that passes through and con-
nects the separate pieces of Chinese calligraphy.”
   Salzman quotes his instructor, Pan Qingfui, a master whose
nickname is Iron Fist, as saying, “The eyes are the most

                     On Becoming a Leader

important, because in them you can see a person’s yi [will or
intent].” Salzman goes on to say, “Chinese boxing depends
on yi for its strength, so you have to train your eyes. . . . You
must practice the taolu as if you had complete confidence in
your strength, as if a single blow of your hand could destroy
your opponent. . . . You must hit him with your eyes, your
heart. Your hands will follow.”
   Author George Leonard writes of mastery, “Experienced pi-
lots can tell a lot about how good another pilot is by the way he
or she gets into the pilot’s seat and straps on his or her safety
harness. There are some people who are so obviously on that
they give us a lift just by walking into the room. [Some people]
can demonstrate mastery simply by the way [they] stand.”
   Leonard describes some other elements of mastery, too:
“The path of mastery is built on unrelenting practice, but it’s
also a place of adventure. . . . Whether it’s a sport or an art or
some other work, those we call masters are shamelessly enthu-
siastic about their calling. . . . Those on the path of mastery are
willing to take chances, play the fool. . . . The most powerful
learning is that which is most like play. . . . The word generous
comes from the same root as genial, generative, and genius. . . .
[The genius] has the ability to give everything and hold noth-
ing back. Perhaps, in fact, genius can be defined in terms of this
   Barbara Corday said of a kind of self-mastery, “In my busi-
ness, if you love something and want to make it happen, you
can convince other people to go along with you. Personal style,
personal belief, a tremendous desire to make something hap-
pen, tenacity, the ability to never give up, no matter how many
people say no, are vital. I am in a business that is built on rejec-
tion, daily rejection. You have to be able to go beyond that, to

      Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything

simply turn a deaf ear to rejection, to keep moving forward, to
build into your own psyche the ability to stay true to yourself
and what you believe in. If you had a good idea yesterday, it’s
going to be a good idea tomorrow, and just because you haven’t
convinced anyone to go with it today doesn’t mean you won’t
convince someone to go with it tomorrow.”
   Mastery, absolute competence, is mandatory for a leader.
But it’s also more fun than anything else you’ll ever do. Jim
Burke said, “It should be fun, the process ought to be exciting
and fun. The person who’s not having any fun is doing some-
thing wrong. Either his environment is stultifying or he’s off
base himself.”
   Roger Gould simply loves what he does. “I’d never known a
psychiatrist and didn’t really know what they did, but it seemed
right for me. I like people and love talking to them on a deep
level. I love being an analyst. I have a great feeling for people
and like helping them. But at the core of it all is a profound cu-
riosity about the thinking process. That’s what drives me.”


There’s an old saying: “Unless you’re the lead dog, the scenery
never changes.” To extend that thought, for the leader the
scenery is always changing. Everything is new. Because, by def-
inition, each leader is unique, his or her circumstances are also
   Sydney Pollack, when asked if leadership could be taught,
responded, “It’s hard to teach anything that can’t be broken
down into repeatable and unchanging elements. Driving a car,
flying an airplane—you can reduce those things to a series of

                     On Becoming a Leader

maneuvers that are always executed in the same way. But with
something like leadership, just as with art, you reinvent the
wheel every single time you apply the principle.”
    Robert Dockson agreed: “Leaders aren’t technicians.”
    Creativity is required, then, for the banker as well as the mo-
tion picture director. The creative process that underlies strate-
gic thinking is infinitely complex, and as unexplainable finally as
its inner mechanism, but there are basic steps in the process that
can be identified. When you reduce something to its most ele-
mental state, its nuclear core, you can generalize from there.
    First, whether you’re planning a novel or a corporate reor-
ganization, you have to know where you’re going to end up.
Mountain climbers don’t start climbing from the bottom of the
mountain. They look at where they want to go, and work back-
ward to where they’re starting from. Like a mountain climber,
once you have the summit in view, you figure out all the ways
you might get there. Then you play with those—altering, con-
necting, comparing, reversing, and imagining—finally choos-
ing one or two routes.
    Second, you flesh out those routes, elaborate them, revise
them, make a kind of map of them, complete with possible pit-
falls and traps as well as rewards.
    Third, you examine this map objectively, as if you were not
its maker, locate all its soft spots, and eliminate them or change
    Finally, when you have finished all that, you set out to climb
your mountain.
    Frances Hesselbein and her husband and their families were
part of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, for four generations. They had
a communications business, and she worked as a Girl Scout vol-
unteer there, but she also did management training for Girl

      Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything

Scout Councils around the country. Asked to take over the CEO
slot of the local council temporarily, she agreed. Six years later,
although she hadn’t applied for the job, she was made executive
director of the Girl Scouts of the USA. She and her husband
moved to New York City and set about reorganizing the Scouts,
to reflect everything she had learned on her way up the ladder.
   “The first thing we did,” Hesselbein said, “was to develop a
corporate planning system in which planning and management
were synonymous. It was a common planning system for 335
local councils and the national organization. We developed a
corporate planning monograph to mobilize the energy of
600,000 adult volunteers in order to carry out our mission to
help young girls grow up and reach their highest potential as
women. Today, our people feel we’ve achieved more unity and
cohesion than anyone can remember.
   “I just felt there was a compelling need to have a clear plan-
ning system that defined roles, differentiating between the vol-
unteers, the operational staff, and the policy planners, one that
permitted whatever was going on in the smallest troop—needs,
trends, whatever—to flow through to the policy makers, so they
had a clear idea of what was going on and what needed to go on.
We have three million members, and we really listen to the girls
and their parents, and we’ve devised ways to reach out to the
girls wherever they are. We say, ‘We have something of value to
offer you, but you in return have something to offer us. We re-
spect your values and culture, and if you open our handbooks,
even if you’re a minority, a Navajo, you’re there.’
   “I think we have the best staff anywhere. They’re wonderful,
and my job is to keep opening up the system and increase their
freedom and scope. I can’t stand to box people in. Everyone’s in
a circle. It’s rather organic. If I’m in the center, then there are

                    On Becoming a Leader

seven bubbles around me, and the next circle would be group
directors, and then team directors, and so on. Nothing moves
up or down, but rather laterally, across. It’s so fluid and flexible
that people who’re used to a hierarchy have a bit of trouble ad-
justing, but it works. We sell it to outside groups.
   “But the best thing about it is that every girl in America can
look at the program and see herself.”
   There are risks to assume in making the results of your
strategic thinking real. But as Carlos Casteneda said, “The ba-
sic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a
warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man
takes everything as a blessing or a curse.”
   Unless you are willing to take risks, you will suffer paralyz-
ing inhibitions, and you will never do what you are capable of
doing. Mistakes—missteps—are necessary for actualizing your
vision, and necessary steps toward success.


Finally, the leader combines all the means of expression, in or-
der to act effectively.
   Little children are naturally creative, and so are the elderly.
Novelist Carlos Fuentes said, “I really think youth is some-
thing you win from age. You are rather old and stupid when
you are young. The youngest men I ever met in my life were
Luis Buñuel, who made his greatest films between the ages of
60 and 80, and Arthur Rubinstein, a man who became a genius
at 80, being able to strike a note by raising his hand to heaven
and making it fall exactly as Beethoven and Chopin demanded.
Pablo Picasso painted his most erotic and passionate works

      Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything

when in his 80s. These are men who earned their youth. It took
them 80 years to become young.”
   I think what Fuentes was getting at was that, subject to all
the usual peer, familial, and social pressures, we lose track of
ourselves when we are adolescents. We become lost in the
crowd, more connected and responsive to it than to ourselves,
and so we lose our ability to create, because creation is the
province of the individual, not the committee.
   But leaders, having achieved self-possession, have long since
recovered their creative powers, too, and have continued to
grow. We tend to think of growth in quantitative terms: heights
and weights. When our bodies stop growing, our minds stop
growing, or so we think. But, as the leaders I talked with have
shown in their own lives, our intellectual and emotional
growth doesn’t have to stall, nor should it. Leaders differ from
others in their constant appetite for knowledge and experience,
and as their worlds widen and become more complex, so too do
their means of understanding.
   Dialectical thinking, a variation on the Socratic dialogue, is
one such means. It presumes that reality is dynamic rather than
static, and therefore seeks relationships between ideas, to aim at
synthesis. You might find it useful to think of reflection and per-
spective as two horns, with synthesis balanced between them.
   Frances Hesselbein demonstrates synthesis as she describes
her approach to her work with the Girl Scouts: “First, you have
to figure out how to organize your job, the management of
time, what your responsibilities are. Second, you have to learn
to lead, not contain. Third, you have to have a clear sense of
who you are and a sense of mission, a clear understanding of it,
and you must be sure that your principles are congruent with
the organization’s principles. Fourth, you have to demonstrate

                     On Becoming a Leader

through your behavior all the things you believe a leader and a
follower should do. Fifth, you need a great sense of freedom
and scope so that you can free the people who work with you to
live up to their potential. If you believe in the team approach,
you must believe in people and their potential. And you must
demand a great deal of them, but be consistent.”
   John Sculley saw synthesis as the difference between man-
agement and leadership. “Leadership is often confused with
other things, specifically management. But management
requires an entirely different set of skills. As I see it, leadership
revolves around vision, ideas, direction, and has more to do with
inspiring people as to direction and goals than with day-to-day
implementation. . . . One can’t lead unless he can leverage more
than his own capabilities. . . . You have to be capable of inspiring
other people to do things without actually sitting on top of
them with a checklist—which is management, not leadership.”
   Robert Terry, formerly an executive at the Hubert H.
Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, defines leadership as “a
fundamental and profound engagement with the world and the
human condition.”
   Roger Gould demonstrated that engagement when he said,
“Once you have a vision that you’ve tested over and over
again, you’ve got the tiger by the tail. You almost can’t stop
leading, because that would mean being unfaithful to your vi-
sion of reality.”
   Betty Friedan concurred, saying, “When I see a need, I get
people together to do something about it. My version of reli-
gion is ‘You are responsible.’”
   For all their particular talents, these leaders see themselves
less as soloists than as collaborators. Leaders and followers are
engaged in the same dance.

      Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything

   Robert Dockson said, “The leader guides people, he doesn’t
force them, and he always treats them fairly. . . . Too many peo-
ple claim that our only responsibility is to our shareholders. I
believe we’re responsible to them, but we’re also responsible to
our employees, our customers, and the community at large.
There’s something wrong with the private enterprise system if
it doesn’t recognize its responsibility to the community.”
   Former Red Cross director Richard Schubert, too, believes
in relating well to others: “How you attract and motivate peo-
ple determines how successful you’ll be as a leader. Above all,
the Golden Rule applies. Whether it’s an employee or a cus-
tomer or a senior vice president, the leader treats people the
way he would like to be treated. Ninety-six percent of our peo-
ple at disaster sites are volunteers. If we don’t attract the right
people and motivate them positively, we aren’t going to make
it.” This concept is so important that I’ll elaborate on it in
chapter eight, “Getting People on Your Side.”
   Leaders who trust their co-workers are, in turn, trusted by
them. Trust, of course, cannot be acquired, but can only be
given. Leadership without mutual trust is a contradiction in
terms. Trust resides squarely between faith and doubt. Leaders
always have faith in themselves, their abilities, their co-workers,
and their mutual possibilities. But leaders also have sufficient
doubt to question, challenge, probe, and thereby progress. In
the same way, his or her co-workers must believe in the leader,
themselves, and their combined strength, but they must feel
sufficiently confident to question, challenge, probe, and test,
too. Maintaining that vital balance between faith and doubt,
preserving that mutual trust, is a primary task for any leader.
   Vision, inspiration, empathy, trustworthiness are manifesta-
tions of a leader’s judgment and character. Former university

                     On Becoming a Leader

president Alfred Gottschalk said, “Character is vital in a leader,
the basis for everything else. Other qualities would include the
ability to inspire trust, some entrepreneurial talent, imagina-
tion, perseverance, steadfastness of purpose. . . . Character, per-
severance, and imagination are the sine qua non of leadership.”
   An Irish proverb is pertinent: “You’ve got to do your own
growing, no matter how tall your grandfather is.”
   All of these leaders have consciously constructed their own
lives and the contexts in which they live and work. Each is not
just actor, but playwright, hammer and anvil, and each, in his
or her own way, is altering the larger context.
   The means of expression are the steps to leadership:

  1. Reflection leading to resolution.
  2. Resolution leading to perspective.
  3. Perspective leading to point of view.
  4. Point of view leading to tests and measures.
  5. Tests and measures leading to desire.
  6. Desire leading to mastery.
  7. Mastery leading to strategic thinking.
  8. Strategic thinking leading to full self-expression.
  9. The synthesis of full self-expression = leadership.

   Leadership is first being, then doing. Everything the leader
does reflects what he or she is. So that is the next turn in our
tale—to follow the leader, “Moving Through Chaos.”

     Moving Through Chaos
              If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.

                                               —Kurt Lewin

Leaders are, by definition, innovators. They do things other
people have not done or dare not do. They do things in ad-
vance of other people. They make new things. They make old
things new. Having learned from the past, they live in the
present, with one eye on the future. And each leader puts it all
together in a different way. To do that, as I noted earlier, lead-
ers must be right-brain, as well as left-brain, thinkers. They
must be intuitive, conceptual, synthesizing, and artistic. They
must—like Wallace Stevens—wear sombreros.
   Robert Abboud was once fired from the top slot in a
Chicago bank. He went to work for Armand Hammer and was
fired again. Then he moved to Texas and became CEO of the
First National Bankcorp. When asked how he could account
for his success, after all that failure, he cited an exchange on
“The Andy Griffith Show” that summed it up: Barney, Andy’s

                    On Becoming a Leader

deputy, asked Andy how one acquired good judgment. Andy
said he guessed it came from experience. Barney asked how you
got experience. Andy said, “You get kicked around a little bit.”
Abboud shrugged and said, “I got kicked around a little bit.”
    Abboud learned from his experience, rather than being de-
feated by it, because he didn’t simply accept it. He reflected on
it, understood it, and used it. Leaders learn by doing—they
learn where there are challenges, where the task is unpro-
grammed, where the job is being done for the first time. How
do you rescue a bank? You learn by doing it. You learn through
all the things that happen on the job. Much of this chapter ap-
pears to revolve around learning from adversity. But I don’t
think of it that way. I think of it as learning from surprise.
    Sydney Pollack told me how he learned from experience.
“The first time I ever directed anything,” he said, “I acted like a
director. That’s the only thing I knew how to do, because I
didn’t know anything about directing. I had images of directors
from working with them, and I even tried to dress like a direc-
tor—clothes that were kind of outdoorsy. I didn’t put on put-
tees, or anything like that. But if there had been a megaphone
around, I would have grabbed it.”
    Pollack created entire worlds every time he made a movie—
both the world on-screen and the world behind the camera.
“On a motion picture I have a team of anywhere from one hun-
dred to two hundred people. Some are technicians, some are
artists, some are craftsmen, and some are just laborers. Part of
the trick is not creating situations where you’re inviting con-
tests of egos. And oddly enough, the more willing you seem to
be to let people participate, the less need they have to force
participation. It’s the threat of being left out that exacerbates
their ego problems and creates clashes.”

                    Moving Through Chaos

   Here is one of the important things Pollack learned about
leadership: “The things people always talk about in any inter-
view about leadership aren’t the things that are the most diffi-
cult or the most interesting about leadership. They’re the
more tangible things. We know that you have to delegate re-
sponsibility, you have to encourage people to have initiative,
and you have to encourage people to take chances. The artistic
part of leadership is in a way, I think, not different from art, in
that in a sense it’s all innovation, and like all creative acts
comes out of a certain kind of controlled free association.”
   Learning to lead is, on one level, learning to manage change.
As we’ve seen, a leader imposes (in the most positive sense of
the word) his or her philosophy on the organization, creating
or re-creating its culture. The organization then acts on that
philosophy, carries out the mission, and the culture takes on a
life of its own, becoming more cause than effect. But unless the
leader continues to evolve, to adapt and adjust to external
change, the organization will sooner or later stall.
   In other words, one of a leader’s principal gifts is the ability
to use his or her experiences to grow in office. Teddy Roosevelt
was described as “a clown” before he became president. His
cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was dismissed by Walter Lipp-
man as “a pleasant country squire who wants to be president.”
The Roosevelts are now regarded as two of this country’s best
presidents. For leaders, the test and the proof are always in the
   Jacob Bronowski wrote, in The Ascent of Man, “We have to
understand that the world can only be grasped by action, not
by contemplation. . . . The most powerful drive in the ascent of
man is his pleasure in his own skill. He loves to do what he
does well and, having done it well, he loves to do it better.”

                     On Becoming a Leader

   The leader does it better and better and better, but is never
satisfied. Aeschylus said that wisdom is gained through pain
and reflection. The leader knows better than anyone that the
fundamental problems of life are insoluble, but persists anyway,
and continues to learn.
   Leaders learn by leading, and they learn best by leading in
the face of obstacles. As weather shapes mountains, so prob-
lems make leaders. Difficult bosses, lack of vision and virtue in
the executive suite, circumstances beyond their control, and
their own mistakes have been the leaders’ basic curriculum.
   Korn/Ferry International co-founder Richard Ferry belongs
to what might be called the throw-them-into-the-water-and-
they’ll-learn-to-swim school: “You can’t really create leaders.
How do you teach people to make decisions, for example? All
you can do is develop the talents people have. I’m a great be-
liever in trial by fire, on-the-job experience. Put them out there
in the plants, put them in the markets, send them to Japan and
Europe. Train them on the job.”
   Jim Burke and Horace Deets were succinct. Burke said, “The
more experience and the more tests you survive, the more apt you
are to be a good leader.” Deets, speaking of his job as executive
director of the American Association of Retired Persons, said,
“It’s a tough job and, I would wager, can only be learned by expe-
rience. You can’t learn it by reading up on it, you’ve got to do it.
The only real laboratory is the laboratory of leadership itself.”
   When I talked with her, Barbara Corday was working her
way through a difficult lesson: “When Tri-Star and Columbia
merged, they woke up the next day with two presidents of their
two television divisions, and so one of us had to go. It turned
out to be me. It’s been three months—the longest period of
time I’ve gone without working for twenty-five years. It’s been

                    Moving Through Chaos

a real learning experience, a real time of change and reflection,
and I think I’m just really getting ready to plunge back in
again. . . . I think getting up in the morning is more exciting
when you’re nervous. If you’re not nervous, you’re dead. . . .
It’s time to change your life or your work the moment you stop
having butterflies in your stomach.”
    College president emeritus Alfred Gottschalk is another ad-
vocate of learning from adversity. “I lost some jobs as a kid and
did poorly in some courses, and I learned that the world didn’t
end. Adversity has a great deal to do with the development of
leaders. Either it knocks you out or you become a bigger and
better person.”
    On the risks of leadership, Gottschalk said, “Today there are
risks in being at the head of the pack. You can get shot in the
back. People try to trip you. People want you to fail. And at
some point or another, every leader falls off his pedestal.
They’re either pulled down, shot down, or they do something
dumb, or they just wear out.”
    According to a study by behavioral scientists Michael Lom-
bardo and Morgan McCall at the Center for Creative Leader-
ship, adversity is as random—and as prevalent—as good luck.
After interviewing nearly 100 top executives, they found that
serendipity was the rule, not the exception, and that the execu-
tives’ ascensions were anything but orderly. Key events included
radical job changes and serious problems, as well as lucky
breaks. Problems cited included failure, demotions, missed pro-
motions, assignments overseas, starting new businesses from
scratch, corporate mergers, takeovers and shake-ups, and office
    Lombardo and McCall concluded that adversity instructs,
that successful executives ask endless questions, that they surpass

                     On Becoming a Leader

their less successful compatriots primarily because they learn
more from all their experiences, and that they learn early in their
careers to be comfortable with ambiguity.
   In 1817, poet John Keats wrote in a letter to his brothers that
the basis for real achievement was “negative capability . . . when a
man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, with-
out any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” There’s probably
no better definition of a contemporary leader than that.
   John Gardner, the late founder of Common Cause and a for-
mer Health, Education, and Welfare secretary, listed creeping
crises, the size and complexity of organizations and institutions,
specialization, the current anti-leader climate, and the general
and specific rigors of public life as the principal obstacles to
   Norman Lear, too, sees obstacles as an integral part of lead-
ership. “To be an effective leader, you not only have to get the
group of followers on the right path, but you must be able to
convince them that whatever obstacle stands in the way ahead,
whether it’s a tree or a building that blocks the view, you’re go-
ing to get around it. You’re not going to be put off by the appar-
ent barriers to your goal. All journeys are filled with potholes
and mines, but the only way we can move beyond them is to ap-
proach them, and recognize them for what they are. You have to
see that it’s only a tree, or whatever, and it’s not insurmountable.
Everywhere you trip is where the treasure lies.”
   Everywhere you trip is where the treasure lies. That’s learning
from surprise, as well as adversity. Virtually every leader I
talked with would agree.
   A number of them learned valuable lessons from difficult
bosses—some even from bad bosses. The difference between
the two is that bad bosses teach you what not to do. The diffi-

                    Moving Through Chaos

cult boss offers more complex lessons. A difficult boss can be
challenging, picky, intimidating, arrogant, abrupt, and mercu-
rial. But at the same time he can inspire, provide vision, and oc-
casionally even care about you. A classic example of a difficult
boss was media mogul Robert Maxwell. A true visionary who
was discovered to be a crook after his mysterious death in 1991,
Maxwell admitted to all of the flaws listed above during a “60
Minutes” interview. He once fired his son for forgetting to pick
him up at the airport, and then rehired him six months later.
    Anne Bryant told me of a difficult boss: “I worked for a
woman whom I admired, thought was fabulous, but she always
looked for the flaws in people, so she lost lots of good people.
She is exciting, brilliant, a visionary, and she really moves and
changes organization, but working for her is tough. I learned a
lot from her—on both the positive and negative sides. If you’re
strong, you can learn from bad bosses, but if you’re not strong,
it’s tough.”
    Barbara Corday described both a bad boss and a difficult
one: “I think I learned some really important things from bad
leaders. It’s like having a parent where you say, ‘I’ll never treat
my children that way.’ . . . I worked years ago in New York for a
man who was very abusive to people who worked for him—
physically as well as mentally. He would take a guy and throw
him up against a wall and yell at him. And then he would put an
extra $50 in the pay envelope. I did not see any loyalty or good
work coming out of that atmosphere. And I just went com-
pletely the other way. . . . My partner Barbara and I once
worked for a man, a very famous, talented producer, who was
unhappily married and had no particular interest in going
home at night. Well, of course, what that translated to was that
we wound up working terrible hours, well into the nights and

                     On Becoming a Leader

weekends, because our boss didn’t have a life that he cared
about. The theory I got from that is that you can’t force your
lifestyle and your personal life on the people who work for
you. . . . I think if I am known for anything in this industry, it is
that anybody who has ever worked for me wants to work for
me again.”
   Former Lucky Stores CEO Don Ritchey said that difficult
bosses really “test your beliefs, and you learn all the things you
don’t want to do or stand for. I once was in a situation where I
had to put up or shut up, and I quit, went back to school, to
start a new career as a college administrator. Then a couple of
years later, he was gone and I was rehired. Ultimately I became
CEO.” Ritchey worked for some very good bosses, but it was
the difficult boss who had a crucial impact on his career.
   With a weak boss, a leader in training may have to “manage
   Shirley Hufstedler said, “Some people, at bottom, really
want the world to take care of them, rather than the other way
around. Such people expect their followers to care for them.
For such people, only a crisis—such as a serious illness, a life-
threatening situation, a great personal or financial loss—can
change them and/or their direction.”
   The ideal boss for a growing leader is probably a good boss
with major flaws, so that one can learn all the complex lessons
of what to do and what not to do simultaneously.
   Ernest Hemingway said that the world breaks all of us, and
we grow stronger in the broken places. That’s certainly true of
leaders. Their capability to rebound permits them to achieve,
to realize their vision.
   Robert Dockson told me of the time he was fired by the
Bank of America: “It was one of the best things that ever hap-

                     Moving Through Chaos

pened to me, because if you can bounce back, you can learn a
great deal.”
   Mathilde Krim overcame a deeper, more personal obstacle:
“I always felt I was a little different,” the distinguished scientist
and activist told me.
   This brings me to what I think of as the Wallenda Factor, a
concept I described in detail in Leaders and so will recap only
briefly here. Shortly after the great aerialist Karl Wallenda fell
to his death in 1978 while doing his most dangerous walk, his
wife, also an aerialist, said, “All Karl thought about for months
before was falling. It was the first time he’d ever thought about
that, and it seemed to me that he put all his energies into not
falling rather than walking the tightrope.” If we think more
about failing at what we’re doing than about doing it, we will
not succeed.
   Few other American leaders—none that I talked with—
have experienced anything like the Tylenol crisis that Jim
Burke had to deal with in the early 1980s. It was a calamity
that could have destroyed Johnson & Johnson, but both the
company and Burke emerged stronger and wiser than before.
Burke talked at length about the crisis, and it was clear to me
that at no moment did he think about not succeeding.
   As you will recall, several people died from poison that had
been inserted into Tylenol capsules. The story swept across the
country like a fire storm, made more dramatic—and frighten-
ing—by the fact that no one knew who had poisoned the
Tylenol or why or how many packages had been tainted. Burke
took charge immediately. “I knew I had to and I knew I could,”
he said. “I had never been on television in my life, but I under-
stood it, and I understood the public. I had three separate or-
ganizations doing research, one looking at it from an overall

                    On Becoming a Leader

Johnson & Johnson point of view, another looking at it from a
product point of view, and then a group of our people out with
TV cameras talking to consumers. I took tapes home every
night and saw that everyone else who was making decisions saw
them, so we could listen to the people, see them, and get some
sense of their emotions, their reactions.
   “I’ve been trained in market research and consumer market-
ing. I know the media. I was a news freak, and I’d dealt with the
networks several times. I knew the heads of news, who to call,
how to talk with them. I wasn’t anxious to go to TV myself, but
I was trying to get them to understand the problem and the
need to handle it responsibly. I knew that the public, in the
long run, was going to make the decision, not just for Tylenol
and Johnson & Johnson, but how we marketed over-the-
counter drugs in general. I was in this room twelve hours a day.
I solicited advice from everyone, because no one had ever dealt
with this kind of issue before. It was brand-new.
   “My son said an interesting thing. He said that I had a philos-
ophy of life which I felt strongly about, and all of a sudden,
through an accident, that philosophy was tested, and all my ex-
perience was utilized in a unique way. Several very capable peo-
ple told me they couldn’t do what I was doing, and only one
person here supported what I was doing. I knew we were not
the bad guys, and I believed in the intrinsic fairness of the sys-
tem, and I believed we’d be fairly treated. But when I decided to
go on ‘60 Minutes,’ the head of public relations told me it was
the worst decision anyone in this corporation had ever made,
and anyone who would risk this corporation that way was totally
irresponsible, and he walked out and slammed the door.
   “I had double-dated with Mike Wallace years before, and I
met with him and his producer, who was the toughest monkey

                    Moving Through Chaos

I ever met. He’d been a prosecuting attorney, and he acted like
one. What it came down to was that if we were absolutely
straight with them, we’d do fine. And we did. After the show,
we did some research, and the people who saw it were five
times more apt to buy our products than those who didn’t see
it. I did ‘Donahue,’ too. He was very supportive, very helpful.
    “I think it all worked because I was convinced that we had
tremendous strengths as a company that we’d never used be-
fore. And there wasn’t a doctor in the country we didn’t call to
ask about Tylenol. And we had everything we needed inter-
nally, including the moral strength. We put together the new
packaging overnight practically, when it would have normally
taken two years. But most important was the fact that we put
the public first. We never hid anything from them and were as
honest as we knew how to be. It just confirmed my belief that if
you play it straight, it works.
    “I lived on junk foods and about three or four hours’ sleep a
night, but it never seemed to bother me. I think it’s true that
the body creates the chemistries it needs to deal with emergen-
cies. I also think I was sustained by the fact that I knew we were
doing well. I was convinced we were going to save the brand,
and we did.”
    Burke appeared on the cover of Fortune in June 1988, as part
of a story on innovators—a highly deserved tribute.
    Our leaders transform experience into wisdom and, in turn,
transform the cultures of their organizations. In this way, soci-
ety as a whole is transformed. It is neither a tidy nor necessarily
logical process, but it’s the only one we have.
    Lynn Harrell, one of our great cellists and a former USC fac-
ulty member, once wrote in Ovation magazine: “It is, alas, al-
most impossible to teach magic. In my class at USC, twelve

                     On Becoming a Leader

talented individuals and I search constantly for some way to de-
fine the undefinable. . . . But, in the end, they have to go out
into the orchestra and do it for themselves. There is no substi-
tute for the magic [of the orchestra]. It is why I snarl like a
guard dog if I sense they are being walled off or screened from
this experience. . . . I remember how it feels to be opened in this
way when you are young, before the shell and the ordinariness
sets in.”
   There is magic in experience, as well as wisdom. And more
magic in stress, challenge, and adversity, and more wisdom.
Crisis is so often the crucible in which leaders are formed.
Look at the transformation of Rudolph Giuliani following
   Before the terrorist attacks on New York, Giuliani was a
lame-duck mayor with a reputation for toughness rather than
compassion, a reputation somewhat tarnished by his bitter
breakup with wife Donna Hanover. But tragedy showed Giu-
liani to be a genuine leader, one who was able to communicate
his vision of a brave, resilient New York in ways that com-
forted and inspired the devastated city. Following the collapse
of the Twin Towers, he was a constant, tireless presence, skill-
fully handling such disparate details as keeping celebrities
away from Ground Zero and walking brides down the aisles
whose firefighter fathers or brothers had died in the attacks.
Just as the chaos of the Blitz brought out the leader in
Churchill, the chaos of 9/11 allowed Giuliani to become, in
the words of the media, “Churchill in a baseball cap.”

                         Getting People
                          on Your Side
                 Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more . . .
                               Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
                      Cry “God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”

                                    —William Shakespeare
                                    The Life of King Henry V

What is it that makes us go riding unto the breach—following
even those leaders who don’t have Will Shakespeare writing
their speeches? Some would argue that the answer is charisma,
and either you have it or you don’t. I don’t think it’s that sim-
ple. In the course of my study, I met many leaders who couldn’t
be described as charismatic by any sort of rhetorical stretch,
but they nevertheless managed to inspire an enviable trust and
loyalty in their co-workers. And through their abilities to get
people on their side, they were able to effect necessary changes
in the culture of their organizations and make real their guid-
ing visions.
   Ed, the fellow who surrendered to the context early in this
book, was not one of this group. When I first met him, the

                     On Becoming a Leader

complaint was only that he had no people skills. Ultimately,
of course, Ed’s problem was much deeper than that, but peo-
ple skills deserve more attention than they often receive in
discussions of leadership. Some of them can be taught; I’m
not certain that all of them can. Empathy, for example—like
charisma—may be something that people either have or don’t
have. Not all leaders have it, but many do—and as Marty
Kaplan said, “I’ve known leaders who have had none of it
and nevertheless were leaders, but those who have had that
quality have moved and inspired me more.” Gloria Steinem
added, “There are a lot of excellent people who can’t em-
pathize very well.”
   As a CBS executive Barbara Corday worked through empa-
thy, which she sees as particularly female: “I think women gen-
erally see power in a different way from men. I don’t have any
need for personal power, especially over people. I want to have
the kind of power that is my company working well, my staff
working well. . . . As moms and wives and daughters we’ve
been caretakers, and a lot of the caretakers in our lives were
women, and we continue in caretaking roles even as we get suc-
cessful in business. And that feels natural to us. I have always
been very pleased and happy and proud of the fact that I not
only know all the people who work for me, but I know their
husbands’ and wives’ names, and I know their children’s names,
and I know who’s been sick, and I know what to ask. That’s
what’s special to me in a work atmosphere. I think that’s what
people appreciate, and that’s why they want to be there, and
that’s why they’re loyal, and that’s why they care about what
they’re doing. And I think that is peculiarly female.”
   The men I spoke with also talked of empathy, however. Herb
Alpert said, “One of the keys to dealing with artists is to be sen-

                  Getting People on Your Side

sitive to their feelings and their needs, to give them their day in
court so they can air their grievances or their brilliant ideas.”
   Empathy isn’t simply the province of artists. Former Lucky
Stores CEO Don Ritchey said, “I think one of the biggest
turn-ons is for people to know that their peers and particularly
their bosses not only know they’re there but know pretty inti-
mately what they’re doing and are involved with them on al-
most a daily basis, that it’s a partnership, that you’re really
trying to run this thing well together, that if something goes
wrong our goal is to fix it, not see who we can nail.”
   And, of course, empathy isn’t the only factor in getting peo-
ple on your side. Roger Gould explained how he took charge
without taking control: “I’ve always been kind of a lone wolf,
but when I was head of outpatient services at UCLA, I devel-
oped a kind of consensus leadership, based on getting the
group to formulate the problems. If we had a problem or com-
plaint, we dealt with it openly and immediately. The fact that I
was the boss didn’t mean that I would or could take sole re-
sponsibility. Everyone was living with the same complexity, so
we had to deal with it as a group.”
   Sydney Pollack described the leader’s need to have people
on his side this way: “Up to a point, I think you can lead out of
fear, intimidation, as awful as that sounds. You can make people
follow you by scaring them, and you can make people follow by
having them feel obligated. You can lead by creating guilt.
There is a lot of leadership that comes out of fear, dependence,
and guilt. The marine boot camp is famous for it. But the
problem is that you’re creating obedience with a residue of re-
sentment. If you want to make a physics analogy, you’d be
moving through the medium, but you’d be creating a lot of
drag, a lot of backwash. There’re two other qualities that I

                     On Becoming a Leader

think are more positive reasons to follow someone. One is an
honest belief in the person you’re following. The other is self-
ish. The person following has to believe that following is the
best thing to do at the time. I mean it has to be apparent to
them that they are getting something better by following you
than they ever would by not following you. You don’t want
people to follow you just because that’s what they’re paid for.
Sometimes you can teach them something. ‘You’re going to
learn more by doing this movie than you would by doing an-
other movie,’ let’s say. You try to make everyone feel they have
a stake in it.”
   Barbara Corday used some of the same words: “Getting peo-
ple on your side has a lot to do with spirit, a lot to do with team
atmosphere. I think it has a lot to do with not putting people in
direct competition with each other, something that is not a uni-
versally held philosophy. I don’t believe in personal competi-
tion in the workplace. I have always, in any place I’ve worked,
worked very hard to rid the company or the show or the staff of
internal politics. I’ve never worked well under the intimidation
   Former CEO Don Ritchey agreed. “A real essential for ef-
fective leadership is that you can’t force people to do very
much. They have to want to, and most times I think they want
to if they respect the individual who is out front, if they have
confidence that the person has some sort of vision for the com-
pany. . . . I don’t have any flashes of brilliance of how you teach
somebody to be a leader, but I know you can’t lead unless
somebody’s willing to follow.”
   Gloria Steinem saw getting people on your side as the differ-
ence between “movement” leadership and “corporate” leader-
ship—although she admitted that this might not be fair to the

                 Getting People on Your Side

better kind of corporate leadership, such as Ritchey’s surely
was. “Movement leadership requires persuasion, not giving
orders. There is no position to lead from. It doesn’t exist. What
makes you successful is that you can phrase things in a way that
is inspirational, that makes coalitions possible. The movement
has to be owned by a variety of people, not one group. For ex-
ample, before we popularized the phrase ‘reproductive free-
dom,’ people talked about ‘population control.’ And that was
divisive, because some poor people and some racial groups felt
that this was directed at them. The problem was the phrase,
which said that someone else was going to make the decision,
not you. ‘Reproductive freedom’ tells you that the center of
authority is in the individual. And that made coalitions possi-
ble. . . . There is no human being who’s going to do what I say.
None. Not even my assistant, who is too smart. The only
power I have is the power of persuasion, or inspiration.”
    Betty Friedan also discussed the idea of leading through
voice rather than position. “I have never fought for organiza-
tional power. I can have a great deal of influence just by my
voice. I don’t have to be president. I recently gave a speech at
a university where only 2 percent of the faculty is women. I
had a big crowd. I said, ‘I must be in a place that is for some
reason an anachronism.’ I read the figures to them. I said,
‘I’m surprised that you have not had a major class action suit.’
You could see the tension in the room. I said, ‘Of course, we
have had eight years of Reagan, and the laws that affect dis-
crimination haven’t been enforced, but now we’ve got the
Civil Rights Restoration Act. And you are really in a vulnera-
ble position, since over 50 percent of your financing is federal
funding. Just as a warning. Watch it.’ Then I went on with the
rest of my lecture. And something happened in that room. So

                    On Becoming a Leader

the last ten years, I haven’t been the head of any organization,
but I don’t need to be.”
   The underlying issue in leading from voice is trust—in fact,
I believe that trust is the underlying issue in not only getting
people on your side, but having them stay there. There are four
ingredients leaders have that generate and sustain trust:

  1. Constancy. Whatever surprises leaders themselves may
     face, they don’t create any for the group. Leaders are all
     of a piece; they stay the course.
  2. Congruity. Leaders walk their talk. In true leaders, there is
     no gap between the theories they espouse and the life they
  3. Reliability. Leaders are there when it counts; they are ready
     to support their co-workers in the moments that matter.
  4. Integrity. Leaders honor their commitments and promises.

   When these four factors are in place, people will be on your
side. Again, these are the kinds of things that can’t be taught.
They can only be learned. Someone like Ed never understands
their importance.
   Frances Hesselbein said of her work with the Girl Scouts, “I
think I’ve kept my promises. I’ve been able to communicate a
vision, a future for the organization, and a respect for people.
Personal and organizational integrity are key. But I have a pas-
sion for doing everything better and better, and a striving for
excellence in everything we do. We’re not managing for the
sake of being great managers, we’re managing for the mission. I
don’t believe in a star system. I believe in helping people iden-
tify what they can do well and releasing them to do it. Our
whole focus is on membership, the delivery of services to the

                  Getting People on Your Side

membership, and the opportunity that gives this organization
and its six hundred thousand volunteers. It’s a very exciting
time. We’re shifting the whole ecology of learning away from a
specific class or place into problem areas and issues, so that the
so-called problems become opportunities to serve in new ways.”
   As president of the Red Cross in the late 1980s, Richard
Schubert used his voice to seek nothing less than a revolution in
an old American institution. “It’s harder to run the Red Cross
than Bethlehem Steel because, first, you do everything in a fish-
bowl here, and second, you’re working for the most part with
volunteers, and third, the nature of the organization demands
full-time leadership. You can’t ever just manage, you have to
lead. I spend a lot of time in the trenches. It’s important to me to
understand the people we serve and their views of us. And I al-
ways keep in mind the global nature of the organization. There
are really only two services that every chapter of the Red Cross
must provide: disaster and support services to military families
during crises. But we’ve created a new focus. We’re not going to
try to be all things to all people. We’re going to be an emergency
organization, and we basically let our chapters determine their
community’s needs in this area. Hence, anything you can think
of in health and welfare is done by some Red Cross chapter.”
   Like Steinem and Friedan, Hesselbein and Schubert must
lead with their voices. They understand the lesson of taking
charge without taking control, that they must inspire their vol-
unteers, not order them.
   Leading from voice is a necessary condition for movement
leadership, or for any situation in which the leader is dealing
with volunteers. But the same ability to inspire and persuade
through empathy and trust can be and should be present in all
organizations. In his book Leadership Is an Art, Max De Pree,

                    On Becoming a Leader

CEO of Herman Miller, argues that’s the best way to treat every-
one: “The best people working for organizations are like volun-
teers. Since they could probably find good jobs in any number of
groups, they choose to work somewhere for reasons less tangible
than salary or position. Volunteers do not need contracts, they
need covenants. . . . Covenantal relationships induce freedom,
not paralysis. A covenantal relationship rests on shared commit-
ment to ideas, to issues, to values, to goals, and to management
process. Words such as love, warmth, personal chemistry, are
certainly pertinent. Covenantal relationships . . . fill deep needs
and they enable work to have meaning and to be fulfilling.”
   British philosopher Isaiah Berlin said, “The fox knows many
things; the hedgehog knows but one.” Leaders are both fox and
hedgehog. They have mastered their vocation or profession, do
whatever they do as well as it can be done, but they are also
masters of the more fundamental, human skills. They’re able to
establish and maintain positive relationships with their subor-
dinates inside the organization and their peers outside the or-
ganization. They have not only the ability to understand the
organization’s dimensions and purposes, but to articulate their
understanding and make it manifest. They have the ability to
inspire trust, but not abuse it. Don Ritchey said, “They [your
co-workers] have to believe that you know what you’re doing.
You have to believe that they know what they’re doing, too,
and let them know that you trust them. I always took a little
more time, told people more than they needed to know. . . .
You have to be absolutely straight with people, not clever or
cute, and you can’t think that you can manipulate them. That
doesn’t mean you have to think they’re all stars or that you
have to agree with everything they do, but the relationship, I
think, ought to be for real.”

                  Getting People on Your Side

   Ultimately, a leader’s ability to galvanize his or her co-workers
resides both in self understanding and in understanding the co-
workers’ needs and wants, along with understanding of what
Hesselbein has called their mission. In such leaders, competence,
vision, and virtue exist in nearly perfect balance. Competence, or
knowledge, without vision and virtue, breeds technocrats. Virtue,
without vision and knowledge, breeds ideologues. Vision, with-
out virtue and knowledge, breeds demagogues.
   As Peter Drucker has pointed out, the chief object of leader-
ship is the creation of a human community held together by
the work bond for a common purpose. Organizations and their
leaders inevitably deal with human nature, which is why values,
commitments, convictions, even passions are basic elements in
any organization. Since leaders deal with people, not things,
leadership without values, commitment, and conviction can
only be inhumane and harmful.
   Especially today, in the current volatile climate, it is vital
that leaders steer a clear and consistent course. They must ac-
knowledge uncertainties and deal effectively with the present,
while simultaneously anticipating and responding to the future.
This means endlessly expressing, explaining, extending, ex-
panding, and when necessary revising the organization’s mis-
sion. The goals are not ends, but ideal processes by which the
future can be created.


A major challenge that all leaders are now facing is an epi-
demic of institutional malfeasance, as we read nearly every day
in the news. And if there is anything that undermines trust, it is

                     On Becoming a Leader

the feeling that the people at the top lack integrity, are without
a solid sense of ethics. The characteristics of empathy and trust
are reflected not just in codes of ethics, but in organizational
cultures that support ethical conduct. Long before Enron be-
came synonymous with corporate corruption, scholarly studies
linked a lack of professional ethics to a business climate that
not only condones greed, but rewards it. One classic study,
done in the late 1980s by William Frederick at the University
of Pittsburgh, found that, ironically, corporations with codes
of ethics are more frequently cited by federal agencies than
those without such standards, because the codes usually em-
phasize improving company balance sheets. Marilyn Cash
Mathews, author of a Washington State University study,
noted that three-fourths of all such codes do not address such
things as environmental and product safety. Mathews’ conclu-
sion is as valid as it ever was: “The codes are really dealing with
infractions against the corporation, rather than illegalities on
behalf of the corporation.”
   Frederick, who surveyed personal values in more than 200
Pittsburgh area managers, found that “people’s personal values
are getting blocked by the needs of the company.” He men-
tioned an earlier study that included interviews with 6,000 ex-
ecutives and found that 70 percent of those surveyed felt
pressure to conform to corporate standards and often compro-
mised their own ethics on behalf of their employer. If execu-
tives didn’t continue to feel pressure to conform to dubious
corporate ethics, the subprime mortgage debacle would have
never happened.
   This corporate ethical decline is a direct result of the
bottom-line mentality. Norman Lear condemns this kind of
thinking: “I think that where the greatest impact on the culture

                  Getting People on Your Side

might have been, in other times, the church, education, the
family, the greatest impact now is business. Everywhere one
looks, it seems to me that short-term thinking in business is the
greatest impact on our culture. And that’s leadership, because
it’s certainly educating kids to believe there’s nothing between
winning and losing. . . . Short-term thinking is the societal dis-
ease of our time.”
    Other leaders agreed with Lear, noting that if companies
devoted as much time and attention to product quality as they
do to trying to skirt laws and buy officials, their bottom lines
would probably improve.
    While studies of the relationship between corporate ethics
and corporate bottom lines have been inconclusive (most show
there is no relationship), Jim Burke pointed out that ethical
corporations can be consistently profitable, as Johnson & John-
son was on his watch. He said, “It’s possible to create a culture
that attracts the qualities that you value in people. You can call
that leadership, or you can call it creating a positive culture and
articulating a vision.”
    Former Lucky Stores CEO Don Ritchey agreed. “I start out
with the presumption that most people want to be ethical. It’s
sort of a Golden Rule philosophy. So if you set up a climate
where you not only say it, but where people see that you mean
it, and it works, then nobody has to make expedient choices be-
cause somebody was leaning on him, telling him on the one
hand to be ethical and on the other hand to make the number
even if he has to be cute about it. The fact that you are very
hard-nosed about weeding out unethical behavior helps. If we
caught somebody cheating on the gross profit, for instance,
we’d tell him to get there the right way, or we’d rather he was
short. And the next time it happens, he’s out. . . . Ethics is not

                     On Becoming a Leader

Pollyanna stuff. It works better. . . . I was particularly fortunate,
working for this company. I never had to choose in daily deci-
sions between what was the right thing to do and what was
good business.”
   But according to then Korn/Ferry International CEO Richard
Ferry, Burke, Ritchey, and the others concerned with more than
the short-term bottom line are still exceptions. He said, “There
are some brilliant CEOs running American companies, execu-
tives who clearly understand what it’ll take to be competitive in
the future, but they’re caught in a bind. The only way they can
protect themselves against hostile takeovers is to get the stock
price up. Anyone who’s really thinking about the future is putting
the company—and his or her career—at risk, because investing a
fair amount of money in areas such as research and development
and new products has no immediate payoff. . . . Companies may
write a fancy job description. There’ll be a lot of discussion about
long-term strategy, but, in the end, they want an executive who is
going to deliver earnings.”
   Burke, for one, was committed to fighting this social disease.
And Norman Lear’s description of how Burke raised the con-
sciousness of his fellow CEOs is still relevant today. Lear said:
“Jim Burke has put together some lunches where he has invited
other CEOs, and at the beginning they are all interested in
how the image of business can be improved. They aren’t will-
ing to admit readily the enormous contribution business is
making to its own poor image. And as the time passes and peo-
ple relax, you find them all aware that they need help. That
business needs help. They’re not villains—they didn’t start the
obsession with short-term thinking. They know it’s wrong, but
they’re in traps that they can’t find their way out of. They need
somebody to put a spotlight on it, so that what’s wrong will be

                 Getting People on Your Side

seen by everybody. They can contribute quietly, but they can’t
say, ‘I’m not going to be involved in short-term thinking.’
Their obligation is to shareholders, and the shareholders are
represented by Wall Street, and that’s a vise they can’t get out
of. But if they can find a way to focus on it, the climate can
change, and then they can change with it.”


Leading through voice, inspiring through trust and empathy,
does more than get people on your side. It can change the cli-
mate enough to give people elbow room to do the right things.
When they use their voices among their peers, leaders like
Burke improve the general climate as well as reshape their own
organizations to deal more effectively with the world.
   The leader may discover that the culture of his or her own
organization is an obstacle to positive change, because as cur-
rently constituted, it is more devoted to preserving itself than
to meeting new challenges.
   While at Apple, John Sculley talked about the need for or-
ganizations to change: “If you look at the post-World War II
era, when we were at the center of the world’s economy dur-
ing the industrial age, the emphasis was on self-sufficiency in
every sort of enterprise—in education, business, or govern-
ment. Organizations were very hierarchical. That model is no
longer appropriate. The new model is global in scale, an in-
terdependent network. So the new leader faces new tests, such
as how does he lead people who don’t report to him—people
in other companies, in Japan or Europe, even competitors.
How do you lead in this idea-intensive, interpendent-network

                    On Becoming a Leader

environment? It requires a wholly different set of skills, based
on ideas, people skills, and values. The things I’m talking
about aren’t really new, but are now in a new context. What
used to be peripheral is now mainstream. A shift in orienta-
tion has occurred in just the last ten years. Traditional leaders
are having a hard time explaining what’s going on in the
world, because they’re basing their explanations on their ex-
perience with the old paradigm, and if you place the same set
of events or facts in a different paradigm, you may not be able
to explain them.”
   Sculley continued: “My former boss at Pepsico and the cur-
rent head of IBM were both World War II fighter pilots. The
World War II fighter pilot is no longer going to be our princi-
pal paradigm for leaders. The new generation of leaders is
going to be more intellectually aware. What does it mean to
go from an industrial age to an information age? Beyond the
ways we have to change as leaders and managers within the
context of our enterprise, the world itself is changing, becom-
ing more idea-intensive, more information-intensive, so the
people who’re going to surface, to rise to the top, are going to
be people who are comfortable with and excited by ideas and
   “I used to go on corporate boards so I could learn, but since
coming to Apple, I’ve resigned from all of them.”
   Robert Dockson had to change a negative climate when he
arrived at CalFed: “When I came here, no one ever tried to
teach me the business. It was a divided company, and it had
factions with walls around them. They refused to speak to each
other. I wondered if I’d made a terrible mistake. There were
eleven senior vice presidents, and they all wanted my job. I de-
cided that I wasn’t going to clean house, that I was going to

                  Getting People on Your Side

win all of them over, make them work with me instead of
against me, and that’s what I did.
   “I think the first thing one has to do [in setting out to change
a culture] is get people on one’s side and show them where you
want to take the company. Trust is vital. People trust you when
you don’t play games with them, when you put everything on
the table and speak honestly to them. Even if you aren’t very
articulate, your intellectual honesty comes through, and people
recognize that and respond positively.
   “I think you have trust in a man who has vision and can make
you see that his vision is the right thing to do. I believe that this
company can be one of the dominant financial institutions in the
Pacific basin, and I want my successor, whoever he is, to have
that vision. I don’t want him to manage, I want him to lead.”
   Jim Burke found much that was good at Johnson & Johnson,
but he found some gaps, too. “I had a real vision. I thought I
saw what the future was going to be, and I understood what we
needed in order to achieve that future. I began to see what was
here in terms of a value system, and what wasn’t here in terms
of understanding sophisticated marketing principles. There
was a kind of vacuum.
   “The environment at Johnson & Johnson helps people learn
to lead because we have a high degree of decentralization.
General Johnson utilized a system of product managers be-
cause he saw that as institutions became larger and larger, it
was more and more important to set up smaller entities within
the whole in order to get things done. He wanted to find that
unit within the whole that would liberate creative energy by
permitting decision making.
   “I’ve always operated on the assumption that creative confu-
sion and conflict are healthy. Sometimes I take the opposite

                    On Becoming a Leader

side simply to stir up controversy, because I think better that
way, and the system works better that way.
   “The freer the organization is, the more heterogeneity there
is in the system, the more leaders will emerge. One of the
problems with American business is its habit of marching to
the style of one leader, and his style becomes enmeshed in the
organization. This leads to vertical, hierarchical organizations,
and I think that’s the wrong way to get things done. Here we’re
decentralized and open, and people get things done in very dif-
ferent ways.”
   All of the leaders I talked with believe in change—in both
people and organizations. They equate it with growth—tangi-
ble and intangible—and progress. Indeed, it might be said that
their real life’s work has been change. But change in the world
at large can be an obstacle, too. “Circumstances beyond our
control” is an organizational reality all too often.
   Change, of course, isn’t new. As Adam and Eve left Eden,
Adam might have said, “We’re now entering a period of transi-
tion.” I’ve written more than thirty books, and in one sense or
another, every single one of them has had to do with change,
and coping with change. Still, the world has never been more
volatile, more turbulent, and more spastic than it is now. Un-
certainty is rampant. What’s worse, in too many cases we can’t
even identify the causes or sources of this turbulence.
   Leaders not only manage change, they must be comfortable
with it in their own lives. Barbara Corday, as noted above, said,
“I’ve had at least four completely different careers, and may
very well have a fifth.” Since then, she has done just that, be-
coming a professor of media and an administrator at the Uni-
versity of Southern California.

                  Getting People on Your Side

    Marty Kaplan went from the Aspen Institute to Washington,
D.C., to Walt Disney Pictures, and, most recently, to USC.
When I interviewed him at Disney, he said, “One of the nice
things about this industry is that you can be in it in a lot of
quite different capacities. I’m not all that interested in slither-
ing up a greasy pole, and I’ve pretty much decided that some-
time within the next year I’ll change my capacity in the
business and go to a world in which it’s time to start learning
again. My guess is that I’ll be a screenwriter and producer.”
    Alfred Gottschalk insisted that an escape clause be inserted in
his contract with Hebrew Union: “I can stay basically until re-
tirement. That’s what they would like. I insisted they put it in,
in case one or the other of us becomes disaffected, at which
point we have to talk. I don’t intend to stay one day longer than
I’m happy with what I’m doing, and they don’t have to keep me
for one day longer than they’re happy with what I’m doing, and
for the last seventeen years it’s worked. . . . They know what the
core issues are for which I stand, and if it comes to a showdown
on those, they know I have my resignation in my pocket.”
    Don Ritchey, too, said, “You should preserve the ability to
say, ‘Shove it,’ and go your own way. That really frees you.”
    These leaders have dealt with and continue to deal with this
mercurial world by anticipating, looking not just down the road,
but around the corner; by seeing change as an opportunity,
rather than an obstacle; and by accepting it, rather than resisting
it. One of the hardest lessons any novice skier has to learn is to
lean away from the hill and not into it. The natural inclination is
to stay as close to the slope as possible, because it feels safer and
more secure. But only when the skier leans out can he or she be-
gin to move and gain control, rather than being controlled by

                    On Becoming a Leader

the slope. The organizational novice does the same thing: leans
close to the company’s slope, submerging his or her own iden-
tity in that of the corporation. The leader stands tall and leans
out, taking charge of his or her own course, with a clear view of
where the course is going—at least until the snow starts to fall.
   Resisting change is as futile as resisting weather, and
change—relentless change—is our weather now. It is that con-
stant and that unpredictable. Leaders live in it, and so do or-
ganizations. And there is much organizations can do to make
the process easier.

                 Organizations Can
                  Help—or Hinder
                        I am tempted to believe that what we call necessary
               institutions are no more than institutions to which we have
                 become accustomed. In matters of social constitution, the
                     field of possibilities is much more extensive than men
                       living in their various societies are ready to imagine.

                                     —Alexis de Tocqueville
                                        Democracy in America

Buffeted by the tides of change, by forces that didn’t even exist
a generation ago, under siege on all sides, too many organiza-
tions have simply hunkered down defensively. But like the old
joke, they prepare for nuclear attack by gathering the wagons
into a circle. They will not move and will not be moved. Mean-
while, outside the circle, everything is in motion.
   Although more and more organizations claim to welcome
change, it is as unsettling as it ever was. In recent years, non-
profit organizations have seen their costs soar, their sources of
revenue dry up, their endowments shrink, and their missions
challenged. Corporate America has been roiled by scandal on a

                      On Becoming a Leader

scale not seen since widespread corruption kept muckrakers
busy early in the twentieth century. Instant communication and
globalization are our new realities, and, as a result, the markets
dance to hitherto unheard-of rhythms. The character of work
itself has changed, as more and more people have a string of
careers instead of making a lifetime commitment to a single in-
stitution. J. Paul Getty once said that he had three secrets for
success: one, get up early; two, work hard; three, find oil.
Somehow nothing seems that simple anymore.
   Change cannot be viewed as the enemy—instead, it is the
source of both personal growth and organizational salvation.
Only by changing themselves can organizations get back into
the game and get to the heart of things.
   There are three major forces working on the world today:

   •   Technology
          The most significant invention of the last fifty years is
       the integrated circuit. Forty workers can now produce
       what it once took 1,200 workers to produce. Someone
       said that factories of the future will be run by a man and a
       dog. The man’s role will be to feed the dog. The dog’s
       role will be to prevent the man from touching the ma-
       chinery. Change man to person, and the observation con-
       tinues to ring true.
          The computer and the creation of the World Wide Web
       have transformed the world. The web has sped the cre-
       ation of virtual communities, groups of like-minded people
       who would never have found each other without it. The
       results have been positive and negative. Creative collabora-
       tion is now possible on an unprecedented scale, by people
       based all over the world. Today, backyard astronomers help

       Organizations Can Help—or Hinder

discover heavenly bodies overlooked by the great academic
astronomers of the past. On the downside, international
terrorists are using the Internet to organize attacks on
crowded buildings, night clubs, and other “soft targets”
around the globe. Another technology-related fear is that
the unwired minority may become even more of an under-
class than it already is.
   It is hard to overstate the extent to which digital tech-
nology is reshaping our lives. Virtually unheard of in the
twentieth century, blogs have become a staple of everyday
life throughout the increasingly wired world. There were
some 15,000 blogs (short for “web logs”) in 2002. By
mid-2007 some 70 million filled the so-called blogo-
sphere. Thanks to free, easy-to-use software, anyone can
create a blog, and it often seems that everyone has. Gen-
uine experts use their blogs to share what they know,
companies use them to build brands and practice crisis
control, people use them to promote themselves, crack-
pots fill them with their eccentric views. Blogs on all sides
of the political spectrum were a major force in the 2008
American presidential election. For better or for worse,
they have eroded the already waning power of main-
stream media, allowing a vast corps of self-selected citizen
journalists to emerge. When they function as digital
whistleblowers, bloggers make corporate and political
leaders more accountable. Bloggers in China, Iran, and
other countries are forcing greater and greater trans-
parency on authoritarian governments that try, with less
and less success, to maintain control. Blogs are the mid-
wives of countless new fads and a challenge to traditional
notions of expertise. Social networks such as MySpace

                  On Becoming a Leader

    and Facebook have also changed how we relate to each
    other, organize behind causes or against them, and pres-
    ent ourselves to the world. On the downside, the Internet
    can ruin reputations as well as make them, as we are re-
    minded by the occasional, tragic suicide of some teen who
    has been digitally assaulted.
       On another front, imaging technology is unlocking the
    secrets of the brain, revealing the specific areas of the
    brain that engage in economic decision-making and other
    forms of human behavior. We now know that the brain is
    far more plastic than previously thought, capable of
    growth and repair well into adult life. Current reproduc-
    tive technology allows children to come into the world in
    ways that were once confined to science fiction. The ge-
    netic code has been cracked, and an animal cloned. And as
    remarkable as all these breakthroughs are, they will un-
    doubtedly pale next to some dazzling discovery not quite
    ready yet to emerge from an obscure bioengineering lab.

•   Global interdependence
       Twenty years ago, Japan was quickly becoming the
    major player in the world economy, and an American
    business day often began with a check of the yen-dollar
    ratio. Fifty percent of downtown Los Angeles was owned
    by the Japanese, and foreign investment throughout the
    country—in real estate, finance, and business—was wide-
    spread enough to be a matter of national concern.
       Today, global interconnectivity means every economy
    and every nation is vulnerable to a misstep or malfeasance
    in any single country. Lead-tainted toys made in China
    threaten children and hurt Christmas sales in the United

           Organizations Can Help—or Hinder

    States. The subprime mortgage crisis born in the U.S.
    rattles economies around the world. Economic rewards
    are also more broadly shared. Silicon Valley has clones
    throughout the United States, in Austin, Texas, for exam-
    ple, and there are thriving high-tech centers in Ireland,
    India, China, and many other countries as well. When
    the Irish economy began to slump recently, once-strife-
    ridden Northern Ireland began attracting high-tech jobs.
    Who could have imagined twenty years ago that many of
    the former Soviet socialist republics would be absorbed
    into a single Europe, with a common currency and pass-
    port? Today the twenty-seven nations that make up the
    EU (Croatia, Macedonia, and Turkey remain candidates
    for inclusion) have a population of almost 500 million and
    generate some 30 percent of the world’s Gross National
    Product—$16.8 trillion in 2007. China’s economic clout is
    enormous and continues to grow as that nation unleashes
    the frustrated entrepreneurial energy of 1.3 billion people.
    McKinsey researchers predict that, over the next decade,
    the global marketplace will swell by almost a billion new
    consumers as people in emerging nations begin to earn
    annual salaries of $5,000 or more, the minimum required
    for discretionary spending.

•   Demographics and values
       The American population is aging. Is it ever. According
    to the 2000 census, 77 million Americans are 50 or older.
    That’s an increase of 21 percent in a decade. Those over 50
    are the nation’s fastest growing age group, and they require a
    whole constellation of new goods and services. In 2008
    38.7 million Americans were 65 or older—12.7 percent of

               On Becoming a Leader

the population. That number is expected to grow to 88.5
million by 2050, when one in five will be 65 or older. One
consequence of the graying of America is a growing fear on
the part of younger Americans that they will have to bear
the financial burden for their retired elders. In large part
because older Americans are healthier than ever, they are
redefining age, increasingly bringing the activism they
exercised in the 1960s and ’70s to bear on age-related
causes. At the same time, America continues to be ob-
sessed with youth. And Baby Boomers and other older
Americans worry about such catastrophic ailments as
Alzheimer’s disease—a fear that has created its own lingo,
with the term “senior moment” used almost as a magic
charm every time an older person forgets a name or
phone number.
   The demographics of the workplace have also changed.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, only 15 per-
cent of those entering the work force were white males,
with 25 percent white females, and the balance Latino,
black, and Asian. Latinos are the fastest growing minority
in America. Their numbers increased more than 50 percent
between 1990 and 2000, to 35.3 million. In 2008, the coun-
try’s Latinos numbered 46.7 million—15 percent of the
population. Since 2000, the Latino community has grown
larger than the African American community, which num-
bered 41.1 million, or 13.5 percent, in 2008. That disparity
is expected to grow wider by 2050, when the Latino popu-
lation is projected to reach 132.8 million, the African
American population, 65.7 million. (In 2008 the Asian and
Pacific Islander population was 5 percent.) The Latiniza-
tion of America is changing everything from national

             Organizations Can Help—or Hinder

     politics to the way consumer goods are marketed. At the
     same time, more and more Americans identify themselves
     as of more than one race or ethnicity—a trend that many
     hail as a welcome antidote to tribalism and separation. The
     new president, whose father was a black Kenyan and whose
     mother a white Kansan, may have accelerated the trend
     when he playfully referred to himself as a “mutt” at his first
     post-election press conference.
        The American consumer is increasingly sophisticated,
     demanding more emphasis on quality and safety in prod-
     ucts, more and better service, and more products that save
     time as well as energy. As evidenced by the brisk sales of
     hybrid cars and the cachet of bamboo flooring and other
     green products, more and more Americans are concerned
     about the environment and the health of the planet. And
     as more and more mothers as well as fathers work, Ameri-
     cans long for better balance in their lives and seek ways—
     from aromatherapy to yoga—to reduce stress and simplify
     their hectic lives.

   Each of these alterations is enormous in its impact and im-
plications separately, but taken together, along with all their
multiple interactions, they constitute a revolution. And a revo-
lution in progress always triggers additional shifts and slides as
it moves through the territory.
   Once upon a time, a company introduced a new product,
marketed it, and sold it. There was competition, of course, but
there was plenty of room in the consumer arena for everyone.
Now it’s very different. Tom Peters sketched a typical scenario
for doing business in the 1980s. As a company prepared to go
to market with a product, it found the following entities there:

                      On Becoming a Leader

   •   A new competitor from Korea.
   •   An established Japanese company that had slashed costs
       and improved quality.
   •   A new American company—or several—starting up.
   •   An old-line American company with a new approach.
   •   A longtime competitor who’s sold off a company with a
       great distribution setup.
   •   A company that now has an electronically based distribu-
       tion system enabling it to slash delivery time by 75 percent.

  And it found that it must accomplish new tasks:

   •   Target the market in segments.
   •   Respond to new consumer demands and tastes, which
       change rapidly.
   •   Deal with gyrating currencies.
   •   Suffer disruptions in service from offshore suppliers, as
       when their mother countries default on debt payments.

   Today, the market is even more complex—although the
company bringing its new product to market need only worry
about the gyrating euro in selling to much of Europe. Niche
marketing is more and more important than Tom imagined—
it has transformed the magazine business, for example, and
special-interest magazines now seem to be the only ones that
thrive, including a raft of magazines such as Real Simple that
offer tips on how to slow down and mellow out. Guerrilla
marketing is the norm today, facilitated by the Internet. New
competitors can now appear almost overnight and wrest mar-
ket share away from corporate giants that can’t move with the
speed of light.

              Organizations Can Help—or Hinder

  Along with Peters’s list, consider some other phenomena of
the age:

   •   The Internet and the World Wide Web.
   •   Cable TV and satellite transmissions.
   •   Single-parent families, working mothers, one-person
       households, and non-traditional families.
   •   Exploding housing costs such that only one in five families
       can afford to buy a house, in many parts of the country.
   •   HMOs, rising patient dissatisfaction, and exploding health
       and medical costs.
   •   E-commerce.
   •   The litigious, adversarial character of society.
   •   Fractured and fragmented constituencies.
   •   Rising non–English-speaking and illiterate population.
   •   Persistent poverty, drug abuse, and homelessness.
   •   International terrorism.

   Since the organization is now the primary social, economic,
and political form, and since business is a dominant cultural
force in America, organizations in general and business in par-
ticular must deal with these sweeping and profound alterations
in American society. Many new organizations and businesses
have been, to lesser and greater degrees, designed to function
effectively in this volatile climate. But the last great overall
transformation in American business took place between 1890
and 1910, when the modern corporation was forged. It had two
primary characteristics: multiple operating units and manage-
rial hierarchies. Clearly, it is time for another transformation,
and the key to such a transformation is the organization’s atti-
tude toward its workers.

                     On Becoming a Leader

   Because the organization is the primary form of the era, it is
also the primary shaper. The organization is, or should be, a
social architect—but this means that its executives must be so-
cial architects, too. First of all, they must guarantee that their
organizations are honest, ethical institutions. Then, they must
redesign their organizations in order to redesign society along
more humane and functional lines. They need, in a word, to be
leaders, rather than managers.
   The great American corporations reflected and were exten-
sions of their founders. The Ford Motor Company was Henry
Ford. General Motors was Alfred Sloan. RCA was Robert
Sarnoff. Today’s corporations, too, are reflections of their
chiefs, but things aren’t as simple now, and the reflections are
often fractured. Further, the great old corporations were
agents of change—Henry Ford paid assembly line workers an
unheard-of wage: $5 per day!—while today’s large corporations
are, too often, its victims.
   In this service-intensive, information-intensive age, every
organization’s primary resource is its people. Until the dot-
com debacle of the 1990s, more and more organizations had
come to appreciate that ideas and the people who have them
are their treasure. Good people were wooed, facilitated, and
rewarded. But as soon as the economy began to cool in 2000,
too many organizations once again began to see workers, not as
unique assets, but as interchangeable liabilities. This archaic at-
titude allows the organization to dismiss the potential contri-
butions of all its members and prevents it from fully using its
major resource in its effort to remake itself. Like the individual,
the organization must learn from its experience and fully de-
ploy itself and all of its assets; and like the individual, it must
lead, not merely manage, if it is to fulfill its promise.

            Organizations Can Help—or Hinder

    Despite his anti-Semitism and other character flaws, Henry
Ford was a leader with an extraordinary vision. That vision was
made manifest in the Ford Motor Company. But vision, like
the world itself, is dynamic, not static, and must be renewed,
adapted, adjusted. And when it becomes too dim, it must be
abandoned and replaced.
    The Ford Motor Company ran on its founder’s vision until
it ran down. Today, Ford, like the rest of America’s auto indus-
try, is fighting for survival. After bleeding billions of dollars
for years, the industry is trying to reinvent itself in a twenty-
first-century context. In late 2008, Ford and the other car
companies hoped for a government rescue package that would
buy them time to reinvent themselves, likely by building more
hybrids and other green cars and marketing to consumers who
care more about endangered species than trunk capacity. If the
Ford Motor Company ultimately succeeds, it will be a collabo-
rative effort, including corporate leaders, innovative designers,
factory workers, unions, and public officials who believe the
auto industry is worth saving. In musical terms, the rescue of
Ford and its competitors will depend on the coordinated
efforts of a full orchestra of contributors working in harmony.
It won’t be the one-man-band that made Henry Ford rich and
famous in a simpler time.
    Only the most innovative organizations have begun truly to
tap into their primary resource, their people, much less given
them the means to do what they are capable of doing. Indeed,
many have taken the opposite tack, eschewing loyalty to work-
ers, pruning rather than nurturing, and focusing almost exclu-
sively on the bottom line. In the 1980s, the New York Times
described the corporate scene as characterized by “a generation
of ruthless management.” Starting in 1993, “re-engineering

                     On Becoming a Leader

the corporation” was the rage (the term was the title of a best-
seller by Michael Hammer and James Champy), which often
meant slashing staff, not rethinking every operation as the
authors intended. Ruthless management may succeed in hold-
ing change at bay for a while, but only visionary leadership will
succeed over time. Proof of that was the wild success, for a time,
of the dot-coms, where talent was king. When visionary leader-
ship is combined with sound business practices, the result can
be success that lasts.
   In Thriving on Chaos, Tom Peters says that organizations that
succeed over time will have certain characteristics in common:

   •   A flatter, less hierarchical structure.
   •   More autonomous units.
   •   An orientation toward high-value-added goods and service.
   •   Quality controls.
   •   Service controls.
   •   Responsiveness.
   •   Innovative speed.
   •   Flexibility.
   •   Highly trained and skilled workers who use their minds as
       well as their hands.
   •   Leaders at all levels, rather than managers.

   These leaders will take on new tasks within their organizations,
tasks unimagined a generation ago, but vital now. They include

   •   Defining the organization’s mission, so as to frame its
       activities and inform its work force.
   •   Creating a flexible environment in which people are not
       only valued, but encouraged to develop to their full po-
       tential, and treated as equals rather than subordinates.

              Organizations Can Help—or Hinder

   •   Reshaping the corporate culture so that creativity, auton-
       omy, and continuous learning replace conformity, obedi-
       ence, and rote; and long-term growth, not short-term
       profit, is the goal.
   •   Transforming the organization from a rigid pyramid to a
       fluid circle, or an ever-evolving network of autonomous
   •   Encouraging innovation, experimentation, and risk taking.
   •   Anticipating the future by reading the present.
   •   Making new connections within the organizations, and
       new relationships within the work force.
   •   Making new alliances outside the organization.
   •   Constantly studying the organization from the outside as
       well as the inside.
   •   Identifying weak links in the chain and repairing them.
   •   Thinking globally, rather than nationally or locally.
   •   Identifying and responding to new and unprecedented
       needs in the work force.
   •   Being proactive rather than reactive, comfortable with
       ambiguity and uncertainty.

   In sum, Peters describes a world of people who are lead-
ing—not merely managing.
   To succeed in this volatile environment, leaders must be cre-
ative and concerned, yet neither creativity nor concern is high
on the agenda of many corporations, or not as high as, say,
cost-consciousness would be. True leaders must be global
strategists, innovators, masters of technology—all of which re-
quire new knowledge and understanding, which far too few
companies supply, or even encourage. Albert Einstein said,
“The world that we have made, as a result of the level of think-
ing we have done thus far, creates problems that we cannot

                    On Becoming a Leader

solve at the same level at which we created them.” Or, as a
friend of mine put it, “Sometimes the only way to make the
Coke machine work is to give it a good kick.”
   We’ve talked about people who followed failures with suc-
cess because they got kicked around a little. Being kicked
around can be a real eye opener. When I was a graduate stu-
dent at MIT, I was required for a course in clinical psychology
to go to a Boston psychiatric hospital and find a patient whom
I would see once a week, under supervision. The first time I
went there, I extended my hand, and the patient proceeded to
kick me in the shins. As a result, I had to examine everything I
had assumed about social etiquette from a new and different
level. In the same way, organizations now need a good kick to
get them started again, to upend their assumptions.
   Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the
world.” As organizations transform themselves, they will trans-
form the world. To date, organizations have done far more to
stifle leadership than to encourage it.
   I think we’ve covered all the modes of discouragement,
along with their effects. So how do organizations encourage
leadership? As we have seen, the basis for leadership is learn-
ing, and principally learning from experience. In their book
Lessons of Experience, Morgan W. McCall, Jr., Michael M. Lom-
bardo, and Ann M. Morrison report that when they asked top
executives what advice they would give to younger executives,
there were three basic themes:

  1. Take advantage of every opportunity.
  2. Aggressively search for meaning.
  3. Know yourself.

             Organizations Can Help—or Hinder

   These are, of course, the same themes expressed by leaders
with whom I spoke. Therefore, the organization must offer its
employees the kinds of experiences that will enable them to
learn and, finally, to lead.
   Leaders are not made by corporate courses, any more than
they are made by their college courses, but by experience.
Therefore, it is not devices, such as “career path planning,” or
training courses, that are needed, but an organization’s com-
mitment to providing its potential leaders with opportunities
to learn through experience in an environment that permits
growth and change. Organizations tend to pay lip service to
leadership development, but a study done by Lyman Porter
and Lawrence McKibbon showed that only 10 percent of the
companies surveyed devoted any time to it. A few companies
have found creative ways to ensure future leaders. One of the
best is General Electric’s “People Factory”—a veritable leader-
ship university that then CEO Jack Welch established at Cro-
tonville, New York. Intel is another pioneer in leadership
development, investing more than $5,000 a year for each em-
ployee. But these organizations are the exception, and that
must change. Here, then, are the ways in which organizations
can encourage and stimulate learning.


Leadership opportunities should be offered to all would-be
leaders early in their careers, because they build drive, trigger
a can-do spirit, and inspire self-confidence. Such opportuni-
ties include line-to-staff transfers to utilize, test, and develop

                     On Becoming a Leader

strategic and conceptual skills in addition to tactical skills, task
force assignments to review and revise old policy or make new
policy, troubleshooting, and overseas posts.
   Special projects are also an excellent proving ground. For
example, in the 1980s, PacBell sent teams to set up temporary
communications systems at both the Democratic National
Convention and the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. In each
case, the teams had to invent, improvise, and devise ways to
make these temporary systems work efficiently, and they had
to do it under severe time constraints. Above all, they had to
do it so that PacBell made a profit.
   It was a revelatory experience for everyone involved. In ef-
fect, what the teams were asked to do was to design, build, and
operate a highly sophisticated phone system, sufficient to
serve a small town, starting from scratch, in a very short time.
They then had to dismantle it with equal speed and efficiency.
Having done it successfully, the teams were changed in some
basic way. They had been given an extraordinary test, and
they had passed with flying colors. According to PacBell, team
members were transformed by this experience into potential
   Other corporations have devised ingenious ways to test and
season aspiring leaders, according to McCall et al. Among
them are

  1. Establishing venture capital pools to enable potential
     leaders to start new entities.
  2. Turning small low-margin businesses over to young
  3. Hanging on to troubled businesses and giving would-be
     leaders a shot at turning them around.

             Organizations Can Help—or Hinder

   More often than not, new blood brings with it a fresh ap-
proach and new ideas, and so fix-its, slack areas, resistant per-
sonnel, may all be galvanized by the deployment of a young
executive with the authority to lead, not merely manage.
   In the same way, if there’s a new venture in the works—
whether it’s an entire new division, a new product, a new ser-
vice, or a new marketing campaign—aspiring leaders should at
the very least be included on the team, and at best put in
charge. The venture will benefit from their fresh perspective
and they will learn from the experience of creating something
from the ground up.
   Robert Townsend, the iconoclastic leader who turned Avis
around in the 1960s, was a great believer in executives knowing
the business from the ground up, and from the customers’
point of view. Every Avis executive was required to don the Avis
red jacket and work at the company checkout stations regularly.
Similarly, the great German composer-conductor Gustav
Mahler required every member of his symphony orchestra to
sit out in the audience at regular intervals to see how it sounded
and looked from the audience’s point of view. Clifton Wharton,
former Chairman and CEO of TIAA-CREF, the world’s largest
pension plan, said, “You can spot people with potential as
they’re coming up the ranks. It’s important to nurture that po-
tential and help bring it along. There’s no obvious consistency
in personality types or models. But there are underlying simi-
larities, one of which is having almost a sixth sense about how
to make things work. Some people just seem to know, to have a
grasp, and the ability to provide vision. They have the commit-
ment and enthusiasm necessary to bring things about.”
   Job rotation is another means of affording would-be leaders
an opportunity to learn more about the organization as well as

                    On Becoming a Leader

to see it from another perspective. It is common practice now
for marketing people to sit in on product planning, but it
should be equally common practice for product designers and
planners to go out into the marketplace. Other areas into
which aspiring leaders should rotate are long-term planning,
client negotiations, sales, and—again—overseas slots.
   The higher the stakes, the more opportunities there are for
learning—and, of course, the more opportunities there are
for failures and mistakes. But as we have seen, failures and
mistakes are major sources of vital experience. As virtually
every leader I talked with said, there can be no growth with-
out risks and no progress without mistakes. Indeed, if you
don’t make mistakes, you aren’t trying hard enough. But as
mistakes are necessary, so is a healthy organizational attitude
toward them. First, risk taking must be encouraged. Second,
mistakes must be seen as an integral part of the process, so
that they are regarded as normal, not abnormal. Third, cor-
rective action rather than censure must follow.
   Aviator Brooke Knapp said, “There are two kinds of people:
those who are paralyzed by fear, and those who are afraid but go
ahead anyway. Life isn’t about limitation, it’s about options.” A
healthy organizational culture encourages the belief in options.
   In this same area, as we’ve seen, and as Morgan McCall et al.
also found, potential leaders learn as much, if not more, from
difficult bosses as good bosses. But feedback is always more
productive than confrontations, and honesty is always better,
and more instructive, than meaningless pleasantries.
   All organizations, especially those that are growing, walk a
tightrope between stability and change, tradition and revi-
sion. Therefore they must have some means for reflecting
on their own experiences and offering reflective structures to
their employees.

             Organizations Can Help—or Hinder


The executives surveyed by McCall and his colleagues said
that while the notion of mentors was a nice idea, it didn’t work
very well, either because they didn’t stay in one place in the or-
ganization long enough to benefit from such a relationship or
because the so-called mentors were relatively ineffectual. But
the organization itself should serve as a mentor. Its behavior,
its tone, and its pace instruct, positively or negatively, and its
values, both human and managerial, prevail. If its meaning, its
vision, its purposes, its reason for being, is not clear, if it does
not reward its employees in tangible and symbolic ways for
work well done, then its reflective structures are inadequate,
and in effect it’s flying blind.
   Corporate vision operates on three levels: strategic, which is
the organization’s overriding philosophy; tactical, which is that
philosophy in action; and personal, which is that philosophy
made manifest in the behavior of each employee. If you want to
measure the effectiveness of, say, a retail operation, measure
the attitude of any clerk in any store. If the clerk is rude, unin-
formed, helpless, chances are the top executives either are inept
or lack a coherent vision. To enlarge on an Emerson statement
mentioned earlier: the organization is only half itself; the other
half is its expression.
   Because reflection is vital—at every level, in every organiza-
tion—and because burnout is a very real threat in today’s hectic
atmosphere, all executives should practice the new three R’s:
retreat, renewal, and return. Academia has long recognized the
value of the sabbatical, and so should other organizations. Ken
Olson, then CEO of Digital Equipment, took two weeks off
every summer and spent them canoeing, far from phones or
any other links with his office. Then Prosecutor Jamie Raskin

                    On Becoming a Leader

said, “When I’ve finished all my work and talked to everyone I
talk to, then come those moments when nothing’s in the way,
and I feel most intensely those things that are true in me.”
Those moments when nothing’s in the way. It’s in such mo-
ments that meaning begins to emerge, and understanding, and
new questions, and fresh challenges.
   John Sculley summed it up: “Organizations can do a lot to
assure that they don’t have good leaders. There are things in
the organization, the roots of its culture, the bureaucracy of its
processes, that make it very difficult for even talented people to
rise and become strong leaders.” But organizations can also do
a lot to ensure the rise of their most talented people. Just as
thought should precede action, reflection should follow it, on
the organizational as well as the personal level.


An organization should, by definition, function organically,
which means that its purposes should determine its structure,
rather than the other way around, and that it should function as
a community rather than a hierarchy, and offer autonomy to its
members, along with tests, opportunities, and rewards, because
ultimately an organization is merely the means, not the end.
   Since the release and full use of the individual’s potential is
the organization’s true task, all organizations must provide for
the growth and development of their members and find ways of
offering them opportunities for such growth and development.
   This is the one true mission of all organizations and the
principal challenge to today’s organizations.

                Forging the Future
                            In a time of drastic change, it is the learners
                     who inherit the future. The learned find themselves
                       equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.

                                             —Eric Hoffer
                                                 quoted in
                                       Vanguard Management

I began this book with a chapter on mastering the context, and
I’d like to end it the same way. I offered two stories, one of Ed,
who surrendered to the context, and another of Norman Lear,
who conquered it. You may recall that the board of directors
that ultimately refused to promote Ed was looking for five
qualities in a new leader: technical competence (which Ed had),
people skills, conceptual skills, judgment and taste, and charac-
ter. Those are all important qualities, and I think the board was
moving in the right direction. But these are complicated times
we live in, and even more will be required of tomorrow’s lead-
ers. As Abigail Adams wrote to her son John Quincy Adams,
“These are the hard times in which a genius would wish to
live. . . . Great necessities call out great virtues.”

                     On Becoming a Leader

   To master the competitive environment, the leader must first
understand the challenges of the twenty-first century. Common
Cause founder John Gardner once said that leaders are people
who understand the prevailing culture, even though much of
the culture is latent, existing only in people’s minds and dreams,
or in their unconscious. But understanding is only the first step.
The leaders of the future will be those who take the next step—
to change the culture. To reprise Kurt Lewin, it is through
changing something that one truly comes to understand it.
   Here and now, we need such leaders. We have lost our com-
petitive edge. Adjusted for inflation, average American salaries
have grown only 10 percent over the last 30 years. Our inven-
tive genius remains peerless, but we’ve lost our ability to manu-
facture and, to a lesser extent, to successfully market new
products. What we invent, China makes and sells—to us.
   There are continuing crises in public education, health care,
and government. Wall Street and Washington seem sometimes
to have been overtaken by outlaws. Once an industrial giant,
America’s principal business now is service, but service has
never been worse. Increasing numbers of homeless people
wander the streets of this land of plenty, and no one seems to
know what to do about them. Gangs blight neighborhoods in
many of our cities. And the threat of international terrorism is
now part of our reality.
   If America is to regain its edge, and face and solve its myriad
problems, leaders—the real thing, not copies—must show the
way. Donald Alstadt, former CEO of the Lord Corporation,
has said that the philosopher, not the tycoon or the mandarin,
is king, because history proves that sooner or later ideas take
root. Plato’s republic is in existence, according to Alstadt, if not
in the form Plato had imagined. Ideas, of course, are a leader’s
strong suit—the way the leader draws forth vision from chaos.

                       Forging the Future

   Chaos is all around us now, but the leader knows that chaos
is the beginning, not the end. Chaos is the source of energy
and momentum.
   Rosabeth Moss Kanter described some of the attitudes
mandated by the current chaotic environment in When Giants
Learn to Dance: Mastering the Challenge of Strategy, Manage-
ment, and Careers in the 1990s:

   •   Think strategically and invest in the future—but keep the
       numbers up.
   •   Be entrepreneurial and take risks—but don’t cost the
       business anything by failing.
   •   Continue to do everything you’re currently doing even
       better—and spend more time communicating with em-
       ployees, serving on teams, and launching new projects.
   •   Know every detail of your business—but delegate more
       responsibility to others.
   •   Become passionately dedicated to “visions” and fanatically
       committed to carrying them out—but be flexible, respon-
       sive, and able to change direction quickly.
   •   Speak up, be a leader, set the direction—but be participa-
       tive, listen well, cooperate.
   •   Throw yourself wholeheartedly into the entrepreneurial
       game and the long hours it takes—and stay fit.
   •   Succeed, succeed, succeed—and raise terrific children.


How does a leader learn to transmute chaos? How does a leader
learn not only to accept change and ambiguity, but to thrive
on it? There are ten factors, ten personal and organizational

                    On Becoming a Leader

characteristics for coping with change, forging a new future,
and creating learning organizations.
   1. Leaders manage the dream. All leaders have the capacity to
create a compelling vision, one that takes people to a new
place, and then to translate that vision into reality. Not every
leader I spoke with had all ten of the characteristics I’m about
to describe, but they all had this one. Peter Drucker said that
the first task of the leader is to define the mission. Max De
Pree, in Leadership Is an Art, wrote, “The first responsibility of
a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In be-
tween, the leader is a servant.”
   Managing the dream can be broken down into five parts.
The first part is communicating the vision. Jung said, “A dream
that is not understood remains a mere occurrence. Under-
stood, it becomes a living experience.” As CEO, Jim Burke
spent 40 percent of his time communicating the Johnson &
Johnson credo. There, managers still attend J&J challenge
meetings, where they go through General Johnson’s credo line
by line to see what changes need to be made. Over the years
some of those changes have been fundamental. And, like the
United States Constitution, the credo itself endures.
   The other basic parts of managing the dream are recruiting
meticulously, rewarding, retraining, and reorganizing. All five
parts are exemplified by Jan Carlzon, former CEO of SAS.
   Carlzon’s vision was to make SAS one of the five or six re-
maining international carriers (he thought many international
airlines would go under, as they did, although he hadn’t antici-
pated the rise, in recent years, of small, cut-rate carriers that
now crisscross unified Europe). To accomplish this, he devel-
oped two goals. The first was to make SAS 1 percent better in a
hundred different ways than its competitors. The second was

                       Forging the Future

to create a market niche. Carlzon chose the business traveler,
because he believed that this was the most profitable niche—
rather than college students, or travel agent deals, or any of the
other choices. In order to attract business travelers, Carlzon
had to make their every interaction with every SAS employee
rewarding. He had to endow with purpose and relevance, cour-
tesy and caring, every single interaction—and he estimated that
there were 63,000 of these interactions per day between SAS
employees and current or potential customers. He called these
interactions “moments of truth.”
   Carlzon developed a marvelous cartoon book, The Little Red
Book, to communicate the new SAS vision to employees. And
he set up a corporate college in Copenhagen to train them. On
top of that, he de-bureaucratized the whole organization. The
organization chart no longer looks like a pyramid—it looks like
a set of circles, a galaxy. In fact, Carlzon’s book, which is called
Moments of Truth in English, is titled Destroying the Pyramids in
its original Swedish.
   One of those circles, one organizational segment, is the
Copenhagen–New York route. All the pilots, the navigators,
the engineers, the flight attendants, the baggage handlers, the
reservations agents—everybody who has to do with the Copen-
hagen–New York route—are involved in a self-managed, au-
tonomous work group with a gain-sharing plan so that they all
participate in whatever increment of profits that particular
route brings in. There’s also a Copenhagen–Frankfurt organi-
zational segment. The whole corporation is structured in terms
of these small, egalitarian groups.
   Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch said, “Yesterday’s
idea of the boss, who became the boss because he or she knew
one more fact than the person working for them, is yesterday’s

                    On Becoming a Leader

manager. Tomorrow’s person leads through a vision, a shared
set of values, a shared objective.” Yeats said, “In dreams begins
responsibility.” Vision is a waking dream. For the leader, the
responsibility is to transform the vision into reality. In doing
so, leaders transform their dominions, whether that dominion
is a motion picture, the computer industry, journalism, or
America itself.
   2. Leaders embrace error. Management consultant Donald
Michael’s elegant phrase sums up the experiences of those, like
Barbara Corday, who are not afraid to make mistakes, and admit
them when they do. Like Jim Burke, they create an atmosphere
in which risk taking is encouraged. Like Sydney Pollack, they
tell the people who work with them that the only mistake is to
do nothing. Like Karl Wallenda in his prime, they walk the high
wire with no fear of falling. As former UCLA basketball coach
John Wooden put it, “Failure is not the crime. Low aim is.”
   3. Leaders encourage reflective backtalk. Norbert Wiener told
me, “I never know what I say until I hear the response.” Lead-
ers know the importance of having someone in their lives who
will unfailingly and fearlessly tell them the truth. One of the
most intriguing discoveries I made in the original interviews
for Leaders was that almost all of the CEOs were still married
to their first spouse. I think the reason may be that the
spouse—for both men and women—is the one person they can
totally trust. The backtalk from the spouse, the trusted person,
is reflective because it allows the leader to learn, to find out
more about him- or herself.
   4. Leaders encourage dissent. This is the organizational corol-
lary of reflective backtalk. Leaders need people around them
who have contrary views, who are devil’s advocates, “variance

                      Forging the Future

sensors” who can tell them the difference between what is ex-
pected and what is really going on.
   Actually, leaders tend to come in two sizes: those who hire
reflectors, clones who will mirror the leader’s opinions and de-
sires, and those who hire compensators, people who have com-
plementary views of the organization and the society. John
Sculley, who is a dreamer, hired a real manager to be his COO.
But even when these compensators are on hand, it isn’t easy to
get them to speak up. Sam Goldwyn, after six consecutive box
office flops, brought together his staff and said, “I want you to
tell me exactly what’s wrong with me and MGM. Even if it
means losing your job.” The people around a leader are all too
aware of what they perceive as the dangers in speaking up. More
than forty years ago, when Nikita Khruschev visited America,
he gave a press conference at the Washington Press Club. The
first question from the floor—handled through an interpreter—
was: “Today you talked about the hideous rule of your predeces-
sor, Stalin. You were one of his closest aides and colleagues
during those years. What were you doing all that time?” Khr-
uschev’s face got red. “Who asked that?” he roared. All 500
faces turned down. “Who asked that?” he insisted. Silence.
“That’s what I was doing,” he said. One of the tragedies of most
organizations is that people will let the leaders make mistakes
even when they themselves know better.
   To counteract this tendency, leaders must be like former
Herman Miller CEO Max De Pree, who abandoned himself to
the wild ideas of others. Or like Barbara Corday, who encour-
aged dissent by blending with her staff. Seeing her sit in a room
with them, you couldn’t pick her out as the boss, unless you
knew in advance.

                    On Becoming a Leader

   D. Verne Morland argues that CEOs must have someone
handpicked for the job of dissenter. In an article called, “Lear’s
Fool: Coping With Change Beyond Future Shock,” he offers a
position description for a Fool, who would report to the CEO.
Here is the Fool’s basic function: “To disturb with glimpses of
confounding truths that elude rational formulation. To herald
the advent of cosmic shifts and to apprehend their significance.
To challenge by jest and conundrum all that is sacred and all
that the savants have proved to be true and immutable.” Every
leader, like King Lear, needs at least one Fool.
   5. Leaders possess the Nobel Factor: optimism, faith, and hope.
One of the executives I interviewed for Leaders was certain he
would have won the Nobel Prize if he had been a scientist, be-
cause he had the sense he could do anything. He communicates
this optimism to the people around him. As President, Ronald
Reagan was a good example of this boundless optimism.
Richard Wirthlin, who was Reagan’s pollster, tells the story of
the time he had to let Reagan know, one year following the as-
sassination attempt, when his approval rating had been at
record highs, that his approval rating had fallen to a record low.
Normally, Wirthlin didn’t go in to see the President alone.
This time, no one would go in with him. Reagan took one look
at the lone Wirthlin and said, “Tell me the bad news.” Wirthlin
told him. Not only had his approval rating dived since the as-
sassination attempt—it was the lowest approval rating of any
president in his second year of office in the history of polls.
“Dick, for God’s sake, don’t worry,” Reagan told him. “I’ll just
go out there and try to get assassinated again.”
   Optimism and hope provide choices. The opposite of hope
is despair, and when we despair, it is because we feel there are
no choices. President Carter was done in by his “malaise”
speech. He thought he was getting real, but we thought he was

                       Forging the Future

leaving us with no choice but despair. The leader’s world view
is always contagious. Carter depressed us; Reagan, whatever his
other flaws, gave us hope.
   Another example of the boundless optimism of those who
possess the Nobel Factor was the late comedian George Burns,
who said as he approached 100, “I can’t die. I’m booked.”
   And an old Chinese proverb says, “That the birds of worry
and care fly above your head, this you cannot change; but that
they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.”
   6. Leaders understand the Pygmalion effect in management. In
George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle married
Freddy Eynsford-Hill because she knew that she would always
be a cockney flower girl to Professor Henry Higgins. She knew
that he could never accept the change in her, but would always
see her as she used to be. As she told Freddy, “The difference
between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves but
how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor
Higgins because he always treats me as a flower girl and always
will; but I know I can be a lady to you because you always treat
me as a lady and always will.”
   J. Sterling Livingston applied the Pygmalion effect to man-
agement thusly:

   •   What managers expect of their subordinates and the way
       they treat them largely determine their performance and
       career progress.
   •   A unique characteristic of superior managers is the ability
       to create high performance expectations that subordinates
   •   Less effective managers fail to develop similar expecta-
       tions, and as a consequence, the productivity of their sub-
       ordinates suffers.

                     On Becoming a Leader

   •   Subordinates, more often than not, appear to do what
       they believe they are expected to do.

   Leaders expect the best of the people around them. Leaders
know that the people around them change and grow. If you ex-
pect great things, your associates will give them to you. Jaime
Escalante believed that students in a Los Angeles inner-city
high school could learn calculus. And they did.
   At the same time, leaders are realistic about expectations.
Their motto is: stretch, don’t strain. Pretend you’re training
for the Olympics, where easy does it. If you pull a muscle in to-
day’s game, you sit on the bench for tomorrow’s.
   Former Lucky Stores CEO Don Ritchey said, “One of the
real responsibilities of a manager is to set standards for people,
expectations. It’s a heavy responsibility, because if you set them
too low it’s a waste, not only to the organization but for the in-
dividual, but if you set them so high that a person can’t suc-
ceed, you destroy the person and the organization. So it doesn’t
mean that all of us shouldn’t fall short once in a while, but if
you structure something so that a person always fails, it’s corro-
sive. . . . I guess the ideal would be, stretch the person a little,
but don’t let them fall short too many times.”
   7. Leaders have what I think of as the Gretzky Factor, a certain
“touch.” Wayne Gretzky, the best hockey player of his genera-
tion, said that it’s not as important to know where the puck is
now as to know where it will be. Leaders have that sense of
where the culture is going to be, where the organization must
be if it is to grow. If they don’t have it as they start, they do
when they arrive.
   Elizabeth Drew described a similar phenomenon in politics,
referring specifically to the 1988 presidential campaign: “A
great many people wondered why Dukakis didn’t haul off and

                      Forging the Future

let Bush have it in a way that everyone would understand for
questioning his patriotism. This gets back to Dukakis’s in-
stincts. For a man who has been in politics for some time, he
shows a curious lack of political instinct—of spontaneity, of
knowing just what to do at the right moment, of feel. A Presi-
dent must have feel—but it’s not clear that either candidate for
President has it.”
   8. Leaders see the long view. They have patience. At 89, the
late Armand Hammer said that he sets his long-range plans for
only ten years in advance now, because he wants to be around
to see them happen. In her 40s, Barbara Corday knew she had
time to find a new job, or even a new career. The Japanese are
patient almost beyond our conception—one company I know
of has a 250-year plan.
   Even Wall Street occasionally rewards a long-term per-
spective. In the late 1980s, Michael Eisner of Disney sent
Robert Fitzpatrick to France to head up the new EuroDisney
project, anticipating the realization of the European Union in
1992. Disney stock rose as a result of Eisner’s ability to think
ahead. CalFed, too, prepared for what may be the largest sin-
gle market on the planet. CalFed opened a bank in England
in the late 1980s and added others in Brussels, Barcelona,
Paris, and Vienna, in anticipation of a single Europe.
   9. Leaders understand stakeholder symmetry. They know that
they must balance the competing claims of all the groups with a
stake in the corporation. Jim O’Toole, in his book Vanguard
Management, calls stakeholder symmetry the first of the princi-
ples followed by the best corporations. He quotes the late
Thornton Bradshaw, former president of Arco:

  Every decision at my desk is influenced by some, and at times
  many, of the following: the possible impact on public opinion;

                     On Becoming a Leader

  the reaction of environmental groups; the possible impact on
  other action groups—consumers, tax reform, antinuclear, pro-
  desert, pro-recreational vehicles, etc; the constraints of govern-
  ment—DOE, EPA, OSHA, ICC, FTC, etc., etc.—and the states
  and the municipalities; the effect on inflation and on the govern-
  ment’s anti-inflation program; labor union attitudes; the OPEC
  cartel. Oh yes, I almost forgot, the anticipated economic profit,
  the degree of risk, the problem of obtaining funds in a competi-
  tive market, the capability of our organization, and—when there
  is time—the competition.

   Because they are conscious of stakeholder symmetry, lead-
ers are wary of the Dick Ferris Syndrome (I’m resisting an
urge to call it the Ferris Wheel). Ferris, who was the head of
UAL, had vision—a kaleidoscopic vision of a full-service or-
ganization that not only flew people where they were going,
but also owned the limos that met them at the airport and the
hotels where they were staying. To this end, he even changed
the name of the corporation. It would no longer be UAL, the
old United Air Lines. The new name for the new venture was
Allegis. It didn’t mean anything, but it had style. But Ferris’s
vision was skewed. He forgot that there were other players in
the game: the pilots’ union and the board of directors, to name
only two. He could see only the wonderful world outside the
organization, not what was going on in his immediate vicinity.
The pilots tried to buy the airlines, the board had a fit, and
when the wheel came full circle, Ferris was out and the com-
pany was UAL again.
   The reality of the world, the complexity of the immediate
environment, the need for stakeholder symmetry, must not be
lost in the colorful glories of the kaleidoscopic vision.

                       Forging the Future

   10. Leaders create strategic alliances and partnerships. They see
the world globally, and they know it is no longer possible to
hide. The shrewd leaders of the future are going to recognize
the significance of creating alliances with other organizations
whose fates are correlated with their own. So SAS forms part-
nerships with other airlines. The Norwegian counterpart of
Federal Express—with more than 3,000 employees, one of the
largest companies in Norway—formed a partnership with Fed-
eral Express. First Boston linked up with Credit Suisse, form-
ing FBCS. GE set up a number of joint ventures with GE of
Great Britain, meshing four product divisions. Despite the
names, the companies hadn’t been related. GE had considered
buying its British namesake, but it ultimately chose alliance
over acquisition. More and more nonprofit organizations rec-
ognize the value of strategic alliances and partnerships as well.
   That’s how this group of leaders thrives. That’s how they
forge the future. What about the upcoming leaders? The next
generation of leaders will have certain things in common:

   •   Broad education.
   •   Boundless curiosity.
   •   Boundless enthusiasm.
   •   Contagious optimism.
   •   Belief in people and teamwork.
   •   Willingness to take risks.
   •   Devotion to long-term growth rather than short-term
   •   Commitment to excellence.
   •   Adaptive capacity.
   •   Empathy.
   •   Authenticity.

                    On Becoming a Leader

   •   Integrity.
   •   Vision.

    And as they express themselves, they will make new movies,
new industries, and perhaps a new world.
    If that sounds like an impossible dream to you, consider this:
it’s much easier to express yourself than to deny yourself. And
much more rewarding, too.

               to the Twentieth-
             Anniversary Edition
                             by Warren Bennis

When I last revised On Becoming a Leader six years ago, the
world was anxiously waiting to see if the United States would
go to war with Iraq. Today we all know the tragic answer. The
question that now torments the United States is when we will
get out of Iraq, where we have been fighting longer than in
World War II. That conflict has cost the lives of more than
4,000 American soldiers, left thousands more grievously
wounded, and killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
The war has also cost the United States almost a trillion dol-
lars, money raised by borrowing from China and other nations
because, for the first time in American history, we went to war
without raising taxes to pay for it.
   The United States was also suffering economically during
the previous revision. In 2002 the nation was still reeling from
a recession that saw the stock market tumble more than 40
percent. Today, as I write this, the country is in the midst of

                    On Becoming a Leader

even deeper recession, one that is being compared to the
Great Depression. In a pattern that has become distressingly
familiar, the current economic downturn followed a bubble.
This time around, houses, not tulips, were the object of the
public’s frenzied buying. After soaring to absurd heights,
prices of American homes are now in free fall, with sale signs
blighting entire neighborhoods. The prices of food and fuel
have jumped, even as American jobs vanish by the hundreds of
thousands. These problems were no act of God. They resulted
from lack of leadership at every level, including failures by
government officials and those heading the banking and finan-
cial services industries.
   Crises reveal leadership as well as require it. The current fi-
nancial mess elicited a relatively swift and concerted effort to
address it. In the fall of 2008 lame-duck president George W.
Bush urged Congress to pass a $700-billion rescue package.
Action came after a false start or two, including treasury secre-
tary Henry Paulson’s initially using the toxic term bailout to
describe the plan. Government intervention did not stop the
stock market from going crazy in October, with the New York
Stock Exchange plunging hundreds of points every day for a
week, then surging a record 936 points in a single day. The
market turbulence coincided with the end of the fiscal quarter,
which meant millions of Americans received their 401(k)
statements in the midst of it. Many were afraid to open
them—with good reason, since the news inside the envelopes
was dire. According to the Congressional Budget Office,
Americans collectively lost $2 trillion in retirement money
between July 31, 2007, and September 30, 2008. Many feared
they would never be able to retire. Ever timely, the New Yorker
spoke to the national mood with a pointed cartoon by Roz

       Epilogue to the Twentieth-Anniversary Edition

Chast. It offered this among three “Thanksgiving Recipes
from the U.S. Treasury Department”:

          Six sweet potatoes
          One can crushed pineapple
          Your retirement account

          Mix everything together.
          Bake until the account is completely melted.

   In the past, an economic catastrophe could usually be con-
tained within the nation’s borders. But this economic emer-
gency was especially scary because we are now all citizens of an
interconnected world with a linked global economy. The crisis
had been triggered by the freezing up of credit markets; that
had been caused by subprime mortgages that an underregu-
lated financial industry bundled and sliced into complex new
securities that plunged in value. The shaky new instruments
were born in the United States. But when they suddenly lost
value, investors in Brazil, Ireland, Bulgaria, South Africa,
China, and Qatar also felt the pain.
   The New York Times ran a map showing affected countries
blotched with red under the headline “A Crash Heard Around
the World.” Tiny Iceland was hit especially hard. As it teetered
on the edge of economic collapse, someone jokingly put the
entire nation up for sale on eBay. In a column in the New York
Times, Thomas L. Friedman asked: “Who knew that Iceland
was just a hedge fund with glaciers?” The era when an eco-
nomic event in one nation caused a far-off ripple was clearly
over. As Friedman so persuasively argues in two recent best-
sellers, today’s world is flat and its institutions and interests so

                    On Becoming a Leader

intertwined that what happens in Iowa can hit Shanghai like a
tsunami. With the economic dominoes stretched around the
globe, greed and wrongdoing in one quarter can cause trouble
anywhere. And so, when unscrupulous manufacturers in China
contaminated milk with an industrial plastic, the first, most
tragic victims were Chinese babies whose kidneys were dam-
aged. But because the tainted dairy products were distributed
worldwide, chocolate bunnies tainted with melamine were
soon being pulled from Easter baskets in Europe and the
United States.
   In recent decades, Americans have rarely had to face such
grim evidence that their leadership had failed. We were
shocked at the fragility of the economy and shaken in our con-
fidence that our leaders could fix the problem. The economic
mess alone would explain why most of 2008 was an unusually
pessimistic time in the world and especially in the United
States. In the months before the landmark 2008 presidential
election, many had a growing sense that the so-called Ameri-
can Century was fast coming to an end. Thoughtful people
were not troubled by some jingoistic fear that the United
States was losing its status as the world’s sole superpower.
Rather, many had an uneasy feeling that the country’s best
days were behind it. Those feelings were understandable. The
dollar had become so weak against the euro that many U.S. cit-
izens were foregoing European travel. Once a badge of honor,
a U.S. passport no longer guaranteed a friendly welcome
almost anywhere. And Americans were battered by nonstop
criticism from European and other allies, most of it directed at
policies of the Bush administration, but distressing nonethe-
less. The criticism surged as our meltdown proved contagious.
In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, British writer Andrew

       Epilogue to the Twentieth-Anniversary Edition

O’Hagan wrote that “many a Londoner [is] seething at the
subprime-mortgage disaster in America.” To convey the qual-
ity of British anger at the Americans responsible, O’Hagan
cited F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of the lethal disregard
of The Great Gatsby’s Tom and Daisy Buchanan: “They
smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into
their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that
kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess
they made.”
   America’s decline was evident on other fronts as well. Unim-
proved by the No Child Left Behind policy, our mediocre pub-
lic schools have made the United States much less competitive,
especially in math and science. A third of all American children
and half of its minority children do not graduate from high
school. And then there was the psychic wound of watching the
city of New Orleans—the birthplace of that most American of
art forms, jazz—all but destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and
government incompetence. Even as this country grappled with
uncharacteristic self-doubt, other nations were feeling newly
empowered. No country is jacked up higher on its nascent
sense of global clout than China. Every few weeks another of
the highest skyscrapers in the world opens in Shanghai. China
recently passed the United States in Internet users: 253 million
Chinese are now on-line, compared to 220 million Americans.
The point, of course, is not that China now holds the record
for computer use, but that China is now embracing on a
breathtaking scale the technology that defines our time. In a
sense, the symbol of this shift away from American preemi-
nence was the triumphant 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
The most watched event in television history, the Beijing
Olympics mesmerized 4.7 billion viewers worldwide.

                    On Becoming a Leader

   Every decade or so I find myself writing that we need leaders
now as never before. That seems especially true as I write this,
observing the worried malaise that the country seems unable to
shake off in the final months of the Bush administration.
Others share my concern. A 2007 study of confidence in lead-
ership found that 77 percent of participants felt the United
States was in the midst of a leadership crisis. Slightly more (79
percent) thought the country would decline if it did not find
better leaders. The 2008 survey, taken prior to the national
election, showed results that were significantly worse. (The
study was conducted by the Center for Public Leadership at
Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and U.S.
News & World Report.)
   A major reason for this downbeat view was the spectacular
failure of the presidency of George W. Bush (although nobody
was very happy with Congress either). When I wrote the intro-
duction to the previous edition, the new president had recently
delivered his most eloquent speech—his 2001 address to Con-
gress in the wake of the awful terrorist attacks on the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11. That speech, which
inspired hope about Bush’s ability to lead in difficult times, was
the high point of his administration.
   Unfortunately for the nation, failure followed failure during
Bush’s two long terms in office. Invading Iraq on questionable
grounds and failing to plan for the postinvasion were among
the most egregious. Others included the shockingly inadequate
response to Hurricane Katrina, the erosion of the nation’s
moral stature in the world, the assault on the rights of Ameri-
can citizens, the economic catastrophe—the list goes on and
on. Unfortunately, in large part because of the administration’s
reflexive lack of transparency, we still know very little about the

       Epilogue to the Twentieth-Anniversary Edition

mechanics of these failures. That lack of transparency consti-
tutes a serious problem in itself. Without knowing how things
failed (in some cases, without knowing what things failed), the
incoming administration will be seriously handicapped in its
effort to change government for the better.
   As president, Bush was an example of a particularly danger-
ous kind of leader—one with limited ability, great certainty,
and enormous power. Indeed, no aspect of Bush’s leadership
was more striking than his assumption of unprecedented
powers to the detriment of the legislative branch of govern-
ment. A single example illustrates the imperial bent of the
Bush presidency. While in office, Bush used so-called signing
statements to change more than 1,100 sections of newly
passed laws. In these signing statements Bush asserted that
sections of the law should be ignored because they unconsti-
tutionally constrained presidential power. How common is it
for an American president to countermand the law of the land
in this way? Rare indeed. According to the New York Times, all
the previous presidents in U.S. history collectively made only
600 such changes.
   Much of the credit or blame for the administration’s extraor-
dinary extension of presidential power goes to Bush’s vice pres-
ident, Dick Cheney. Francis Bacon wrote that “truth is the
daughter of time.” We will have to wait to know the actual role
Cheney played in the Bush administration, but it appears that
he quietly and assiduously transformed his office from one of
legendary insignificance to a virtual shadow presidency. Ac-
cording to the U.S. Constitution, the vice president has only
two responsibilities—to preside over the Senate and vote there
in case of a tie, and to succeed the president should he or she
die, become incapacitated, or be impeached and found guilty.

                    On Becoming a Leader

That modest brief prompted Ben Franklin to label the vice
president “his superfluous excellency.” But John Adams, who
actually served in the office, had a much shrewder sense of the
paradox of the American vice presidency when he observed: “I
am nothing but I may be everything.”
   The numbers bear Adams out. During the twentieth century,
one in three U.S. presidents died or became incapacitated in of-
fice (or in the case of Richard M. Nixon, resigned on the cusp of
impeachment). All but Woodrow Wilson, who remained presi-
dent despite a debilitating illness whose seriousness was not
made public, were succeeded by their seconds in command. But
Cheney upgraded his job description without waiting for a
change at the top. Like the Wizard of Oz, he toiled out of pub-
lic view, tirelessly influencing such momentous decisions as the
nation’s oil-centric energy policy, going to war with Iraq, and
adoption of such controversial policies as the use of “enhanced
interrogation” techniques such as water-boarding. Many ob-
servers believe Cheney was a major architect of the Bush
administration’s exceptional lack of transparency (which in no
way lessens the president’s responsibility for it).
   As I noted earlier, it will be years before we know the full
truth about the Bush presidency. There are too few investiga-
tive journalists to go around in these days of shrinking newspa-
pers. But we already have some meaningful measures of its
unprecedented lack of transparency. Consider writer Graeme
Wood’s important 2007 piece on the subject in the Atlantic
magazine. Wood compared and contrasted the approaches
taken by the William J. Clinton and George W. Bush adminis-
trations in making government information public. According
to Wood, Clinton’s basic approach was, “When in doubt, let it
out.” His successor’s antithetical approach was, “When in

       Epilogue to the Twentieth-Anniversary Edition

doubt, classify.” As a result of this profound philosophical dif-
ference, 20.6 million documents were classified under Bush in
2006, more than six times the number classified during the
entire Clinton presidency. As someone who has advocated
candor and transparency for at least a half century now, I am
convinced that opacity in government is the organizational
equivalent of hardening of the arteries. Opacity blocks the
free flow of information, the sine qua non of informed decision
making and organizational health. Without candor and trans-
parency, organizations sicken and fail.
   As we know from one-time insiders in the Bush White
House, the president valued loyalty above candor. There are
few absolutes in the study of leadership, but there is at least
one: No leader becomes truly great unless he or she accepts,
even embraces, candor. Candor performs many invaluable
functions within an organization. It keeps the leader from dis-
appearing into an isolation booth of sorts, built and guarded
by yes men. It forces the leader to listen to unpleasant truths
and thus helps ensure that he or she has all the data needed to
make informed decisions. We have a tendency to admire
leaders who act decisively on the basis of gut instinct. Some-
times gut reactions are a wise, efficient response that takes
into account many insights and pieces of data that are hard to
articulate but are relevant nonetheless. But gut reactions are
often nothing more than hasty choices based on too little
information. My guess is that Bush’s well-known confidence
in his gut will give instinctive leadership a bad name, at least
for a time. That should benefit us all.
   As to candor, it is important to remember that it should be
reciprocal. It needs to operate both up and down because fol-
lowers also have a need to know. Leaders sometimes try to

                    On Becoming a Leader

confine important information to the executive suite. They
treat it as an executive perk, like the company jet. But whenever
possible, information should be shared throughout the organi-
zation, whether it is a workplace or a nation. Obviously certain
trade and national secrets must be kept. But most information is
not sensitive, and sharing it allows followers to make informed
decisions and act accordingly. Those who are given information
are brought closer to the heart of the organization. Morale im-
proves, often boosting performance. Alternatively, lack of can-
dor lowers morale. The worst possible scenario is one in which
people are given false information. In my experience, the fol-
lower who discovers he has been lied to is never the same. Thus
are enemies born.
   A vivid case in point is Scott McClellan, one-time press
spokesman for George W. Bush. McClellan was a faithful,
even avid supporter of the president. And then he discovered
his superiors had lied to him about White House involvement
in the politically motivated outing of CIA agent Valerie
Plame. Their lack of candor caused McClellan to mislead,
however unintentionally, the White House press corps and
other media covering the Plame affair. Even more devastating
for McClellan was the president’s belated admission that he
had green-lighted the selective leaking of classified informa-
tion, after McClellan had been assured Bush had not done so.
Once a reliable agent of opacity for the administration, Mc-
Clellan was transformed by the president’s revelation. When
he published his 2008 confessional What Happened: Inside the
Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception, some
former Republican colleagues acted as if McClellan had lost
his senses. But the former press liaison behaved as one would
expect of a person who felt he had been betrayed by those he

       Epilogue to the Twentieth-Anniversary Edition

once trusted and admired. McClellan became an eleventh-
hour convert to candor, with all the convert’s zealous commit-
ment to his new faith. He didn’t just praise candor and
transparency. In his book he argued that the White House
needed a new post, a deputy chief of staff in charge of candor
whose job would be to “make sure the president is open, forth-
right and working to transcend partisanship and achieve unity.”
In McClellan’s plan the new deputy chief would have three as-
sistants, including one whose sole mission was to promote and
protect transparency. His or her responsibilities would include
ensuring that information was classified for reasons that served
the national interest, not simply “to protect the administration
from revelations that are merely embarrassing or politically
   Volumes will eventually be written on why and how the
Bush presidency failed. But even now, it is important to scruti-
nize the former president, not to demonize him, but to learn
from his negative example—to extract key lessons in how not
to lead. One of Bush’s major failings, I believe, was his over-
riding commitment to an ideology rather than to principled
pragmatism. In foreign affairs, for example, Bush acted in the
fervently held belief that democracy is universally desired and
desirable and will ultimately triumph. That ideology proved
particularly ill-adapted to the realities of the Middle East. Elec-
tions in Iraq resulted in a Shia government at odds with the
country’s once-powerful Sunni minority and our Sunni allies in
the Middle East. Free elections in Gaza empowered Hamas, an
anti-Western terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of
Israel, our closest Middle Eastern ally. And, because of the
administration’s ideological disdain for government itself, one
of the most destructive forces at work during the Bush years

                    On Becoming a Leader

was the corrosive drip, drip, drip of privatization unchecked by
effective oversight. It caused the outsourcing of much of the
war in Iraq, inadequate oversight of the financial sector and
other industries, and the stealthy semiprivatization of Medicare
and other government programs. The administration’s overt
partisanship also harmed the Justice Department and other tra-
ditionally apolitical government departments that had proud
histories of striving to be meritocracies. Moreover, by acting
less like the president of the nation than of the conservative
wing of the Republican Party, Bush further polarized an already
badly divided country. There is a lesson here that transcends
any single administration, Republican or Democratic. Ideologi-
cally charged approaches rarely solve complex problems. Great
leaders do not try to impose an ideological template, right- or
left-leaning, on problems. First-rate leaders know that every
problem is thorny in its own way and inclusively and collabora-
tively find solutions that reflect the unique realities at hand.
   In short, between my last introduction to On Becoming a
Leader and this epilogue, the context that I urge every reader
to master has changed dramatically. Optimism has been
tested by a protracted war, economic pain, and a polarized cit-
izenry. Given this new context, it is not surprising that the
U.S. presidential election of 2008 was a riveting cliff-hanger.
You didn’t have to be a student of leadership to be fascinated
by the race. It was as important a contest as any in American
history. And it was addictive. As the seemingly endless cam-
paign approached the election on November 4, the media ran
stories on election junkies who spent so much time reading
political blogs that their work suffered and relationships
frayed. Candidates began to pop up in the dreams of those
who watched too much political coverage on-line or on TV.

       Epilogue to the Twentieth-Anniversary Edition

   In many ways, the campaign was a microcosm of the most
important cultural changes of the past decade. One major
development has been the technology-driven emergence of
alternative media that have transformed American society,
including the electoral process. The most popular on-line
newspapers, such as the Huffington Post, have as much clout as
venerable opinion-shapers such as the New York Times and the
Wall Street Journal. Cable television has edged out network TV
as the go-to source for information, even though, or perhaps
because, many cable TV personalities wear their politics on
their sleeves. The pace of campaigning (like the pace of every-
thing else) has also sped up to the point where the lag time
between a candidate’s remark and the appearance of a slick tel-
evision ad countering it is a matter of hours. Thanks to
Google, most of what the candidates have said in the past can
be accessed in a nanosecond. In a sense, there is no past in the
blogosphere. Anything that happens in front of a camera (and
almost every cell phone is a camera) can be stored forever and
retrieved and disseminated in an instant. As a result, what the
candidates are saying on the campaign trail is paralleled by an-
other campaign going on in the blogosphere. In this Internet
campaign, truth and lies are mixed in unpredictable ways and
may be hard to tell apart; Stephen Colbert’s truthiness is the
perfect coinage for this new reality. In contrast to the public
campaign, the candidates don’t necessarily control this shadow
campaign, although they can influence it. And whether it is
fact-based or steeped in bias or worse, this shadow campaign
shapes attitudes and has a real though unpredictable affect on
the outcome of the election.
   Given the seriousness and complexity of the problems roil-
ing the nation, it is no surprise that voters followed the 2008

                    On Becoming a Leader

presidential race with a nerve-wracking awareness that the
stakes have rarely been higher. With no sitting president or
vice president in contention, all the cards were in the air. The
election season began unusually early in 2007 and was marked
by the emergence of history-making rivals for the Democratic
presidential nomination. New York senator and former first
lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first woman to have a
real shot at the Democratic nomination. She proved a formida-
ble competitor in what quickly became a contest between her
and the first serious African American contender, Illinois sena-
tor Barack Obama. First hailed as presidential material by
Oprah Winfrey, Obama gave a reputation-making speech at
the 2004 Democratic convention and distinguished himself
from most Democratic political figures by his prescient opposi-
tion to the war in Iraq.
   Obama was a phenomenon as well as a candidate, able to fill
Yankee Stadium with his supporters, many of them voting for
the first time. A sea of 100,000 people stretched before him at a
campaign rally in St. Louis. When Obama went abroad to
meet with world leaders, presidents and sheiks grinned like
teenagers as they shook his hand. Perpetually poised and un-
flappable, Obama was endorsed early by Ted and Caroline
Kennedy and later by former secretary of state Colin Powell.
At the annual benefit dinner named for Al Smith, the first
Catholic nominee for the presidency, Obama made fun of his
cult-like following: “Contrary to the rumors you’ve heard, I
wasn’t born in a manger,” he joked. For many, Obama embod-
ied the promise of a postracial America in which candidates
were judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content
of their character.” But at the same benefit, Obama alluded
with a light touch to the unknown effect on his chances of his

       Epilogue to the Twentieth-Anniversary Edition

Swahili and Arabic names, unprecedented for someone seeking
the country’s highest office. “I got my middle name [Hussein],”
he explained, “from someone who obviously didn’t think I’d
ever run for president.”
   After a series of bruising debates, Clinton won an unprece-
dented 18 million votes in the 2008 primaries but ultimately
lost the nomination to Obama. Although Clinton distinguished
herself in the numerous Democratic debates, particularly in
her mastery of the issues, Obama chose as his running mate
Delaware senator Joseph Biden, who had also sought the presi-
dential nomination.
   The contest for the Democratic nomination was sometimes
so contentious it seemed to call for net and trident. In contrast,
the Republican contest was as dull as an infomercial. The
Republican candidates were all mature white men, including
9/11 New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former
Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. And their primary
strategy seemed to consist of distancing themselves from
President Bush without actually uttering his name and re-
minding voters that they were members of the president’s
party. Despite being counted out early in the contest, Viet-
nam War hero and Arizona senator John McCain eventually
emerged as the Republican presidential candidate. A self-
proclaimed maverick, McCain overcame such major obstacles
as his unpopularity among hard-core conservatives and his
age. If elected, he would become, at seventy-two, the oldest
person to assume the office.
   But the Republican campaign suddenly caught fire in the last
days of August 2008 when McCain made the stunning an-
nouncement that his vice-presidential pick was not Democrat-
turned-Independent Joe Lieberman or another of the relative

                    On Becoming a Leader

moderates McCain was thought to favor. Instead McCain
chose forty-four-year-old Sarah Palin, the young governor of
Alaska little known outside of party circles. A former small-
town mayor, beauty queen, and self-styled “hockey mom” of
five, including an infant with Down Syndrome, Palin intro-
duced herself to the nation in a mesmerizing speech that drew
as many television viewers as Obama’s convention address. In
that speech, Palin—the first woman on the Republican ticket
and thus a maker of history in her own right—made a bid for
Hillary Clinton’s many women supporters with a promise to
assail the glass ceiling Clinton had cracked. As an opponent of
abortion even in cases of rape and incest who believes creation-
ism should be taught in the schools alongside evolution, Palin
appealed strongly to evangelical Christians who helped elect
President Bush and had little enthusiasm for McCain.
   Initially the media fell hard for Palin, much as it had for
Obama. Both were hailed as celebrities and rock stars, terms
the Republicans had previously used to demean Obama. Palin
proved to be a gifted campaigner with a sharp edge and a pop-
ulist pitch (she often mentioned “Joe Six-Pack,” apparently to
capitalize on the belief that Bush had won, in part, because
voters would rather have had a beer with him than with Al
Gore or John Kerry). Palin had a folksy touch, smiling readily,
winking, and dropping her final g’s, but she also served as her
party’s attack dog. Without apparent qualms, she often roiled
up conservative crowds by accusing Obama of “palling around
with terrorists.” Despite her initial appeal, she had a serious
downside. With her paper-thin resume, she undermined Mc-
Cain’s contention that Obama lacked the experience to be
president. In my view, that had been a losing argument all
along. History has shown over and over again that experience

       Epilogue to the Twentieth-Anniversary Edition

per se is no substitute for good judgment in determining the
quality of a leader.
   To an unusual degree, the lives of the four contenders were
the stuff of biopics. As so often happens in our culture, where
even brands of toothpaste are marketed via their own carefully
honed “stories,” the race became a battle of competing narra-
tives. McCain, who took as his campaign slogan “Country
First,” embodied a tale of courage and patriotic sacrifice as a
former navy pilot shot down over Vietnam who was tortured
while a prisoner of war in the notorious Hanoi Hilton. Since
then, he has earned a reputation as a maverick for bucking his
party on such matters as immigration and cutting taxes for the
wealthiest Americans (positions he later reversed). Born in
1961, Obama had a more exotic, more contemporary story, one
that emphasized his ties with the rest of the world. He is the
son of a black Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas,
who had struggled to raise him in Hawaii and Indonesia. All
but abandoned by his father and briefly on food stamps as a
child, Obama became the first African American editor of the
Harvard Law Review. Instead of joining a four-star law firm af-
ter Harvard, he had begun his public life as a community
organizer in Chicago. Obama, who acknowledged that he
didn’t look like the other men on American currency, ran on
the promise of change.
   Like McCain and Obama, Biden had experienced a life-
changing event, a crucible that shaped his character and his
leadership. Biden was twenty-nine in 1972 when he was elected
to the Senate, the second youngest person in history to win the
office. He was in Washington, getting ready to move into his
new office, when a phone call revealed that his wife and infant
daughter had died in an auto accident back in Delaware.

                    On Becoming a Leader

Gravely injured, his two young sons were not expected to sur-
vive. The boys recovered; Biden was sworn in at their bedside.
A popular senator and devoted single father, Biden remarried
and is now the father of an adult daughter as well as a grandfa-
ther. A foreign-policy expert who opposed the appointment of
conservative judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, Biden
is also known for verbal gaffes and for taking the long train ride
home to Delaware each night to be with his family.
   Perhaps because Palin’s was initially the least familiar tale,
her narrative got the most media play. Her photogenic face ap-
peared on one newsmagazine cover after another, often accom-
panying text that made her sound like a cross between Annie
Oakley and Wonder Woman, able to shoot and dress a moose as
well as change a diaper and do the state’s business. Opponents
saw her selection as a cynical bid to appease the Republican base
and attract women (detractors dubbed her “Caribou Barbie”).
The Republican campaign hailed her as a maverick in the Mc-
Cain mold, who had fearlessly taken on her own party in Alaska.
In a piece in Newsweek, Jeffrey Barthelot and Karen Breslau de-
scribed how Palin fit into a time-honored American tale. They
wrote: “Palin’s personal story taps one of the great American
myths—the hardy woman of the frontier, God-fearing and
determined to succeed against the odds. Her story could be a
Capra film, or a chick flick. But as with most political biogra-
phies (or Hollywood films), the rougher edges have been bur-
nished. To her critics, she’s also shallow, opportunistic and
even corrupt herself.” The last was an allusion to a bipartisan
investigation by the Alaska legislature into whether Palin im-
properly fired a state official. In October, the investigative
body determined that the governor Palin had violated state
ethics laws and misused her power but had the legal right to
replace the official.

       Epilogue to the Twentieth-Anniversary Edition

   The election season underscored the fact that ours is a cul-
ture in which entertainment and news have been transmogrified
into a third category that marries the two, for better or for
worse, often called infotainment. When polled, young voters
routinely said they get their news from “The Daily Show with
Jon Stewart” or “The Colbert Report,” which are cable comedy
shows, not news sources, to those who rely on the mainstream
media. John McCain declared his intention to run for president
on “Late Night with David Letterman” and returned to the
show to ask Letterman’s forgiveness after abruptly canceling an
appearance. Cable TV pundits reported regularly on where the
women of “The View” stood on the candidates. But the cam-
paign became downright surrealistic after writer and performer
Tina Fey began playing Sarah Palin on “Saturday Night Live.”
Sporting the candidate’s signature glasses and often quoting
her verbatim, Fey brilliantly caught Palin’s Fargo accent, down-
home mannerisms, and serpentine syntax. Palin later made her
own appearance on the show, passing Fey in the studio and
replacing her on the podium.
   Like Palin, who trained for a career in television, Obama is
richly endowed with charisma, the personal magnetism that
allows an individual to captivate and sway audiences. It is the
same kind of star power that allows certain actors to own a
stage or a screen. Politics, too, is a performance art, as Orson
Welles made clear when he first met President Franklin De-
lano Roosevelt. FDR graciously said to the already-legendary
actor/director: “You know, Mr. Welles, you are the greatest
actor in America.” And Welles replied: “Oh, no, Mr. President.
You are.” Except for those rare occasions when candidates
share the same physical space as those they hope to lead, they
must have powerful enough rhetorical and acting skills to tran-
scend the distorting effect of television and other media. They

                    On Becoming a Leader

must be good enough performers to persuade the audience that
they share the same dreams and interests. Such leaders have the
ability to turn a crowd into a community—or a mob. Charisma
is no small gift. FDR had it, JFK had it, Reagan had it, Clinton
had it. Tragically, so did Hitler. But it is always part of the
political equation, whether we like it or not.
   More than ever since the advent of television, physical at-
tractiveness is a constituent of charisma, albeit a controversial
one. It has been noted so often it has become a cliché: virtually
everyone who heard the landmark 1960 debate between Nixon
and Kennedy on radio thought Nixon had won. It was only
those who saw the close-up visuals—a frowning Nixon, with
his five o’clock shadow, mopping flop sweat from his brow,
versus a youthful, athletic-looking Kennedy, comfortable in
his skin and flashing a ready smile—who knew that the victory
belonged to JFK. Beauty is more than symmetrical features. It
can be enhanced by behavior and our knowledge of the indi-
vidual. But it is routinely a factor in the leaders we choose.
Some leaders are so powerful they can rise above the way they
look. Lincoln used humor to mock his strange appearance,
once remarking to a rival who called him “two-faced”: “Do
you think if I had another face, I’d appear in public in this
one?” But appearance matters to voters as well as prospective
dates. An unkind but astute observer once remarked that
Nixon had a face like a foot. Did that contribute to his disas-
trous debate? Likely it did. Certainly Sarah Palin’s good looks
are part of her appeal, as Republican conventioneers from In-
diana crudely acknowledged with T-shirts that read: HOOSIERS
FOR THE HOT CHICK. And it is a fair bet that Obama’s athletic
grace and easy smile attracted more voters than his Harvard
law degree or his tax policy.

       Epilogue to the Twentieth-Anniversary Edition

   It is no secret that ours is a celebrity culture, and that rou-
tinely means that issues get short shrift in our public discourse.
In the first weeks following Palin’s debut, in the grip of Palima-
nia, Americans heard about her seventeen-year-old daughter’s
untimely pregnancy and Palin’s installation of a tanning bed in
the governor’s residence (an act hailed as a blow to the “the
sun-scare industry” by the tanning lobby). In what could be
called the People magazine phase of the race, the incidental
drove out the substantial, in part, because the McCain cam-
paign kept Palin, who performed best when scripted, away
from traditional media. Cable TV filled its gaping news hole
with such inconsequential questions as whether McCain looked
less like the presidential candidate than Palin’s second banana.
   All that changed when giant investment banker Lehman
Brothers announced it would seek bankruptcy protection on
September 15; the Dow plummeted, and people began pulling
their cash out of their banks. Suddenly the campaign focused
with laser-like intensity on the battered economy and the pain
it was causing voters. The resonant personal stories carefully
constructed by the candidates and their handlers were put
aside, and the public was able to compare and contrast the can-
didates’ very different positions on matters of real weight. For
a time, the carnival-like process of choosing a president and
vice president was relinked to the next phase in the process—
the one of paramount importance: how the president we
choose will lead and, thus, shape our lives and those of our
children and grandchildren. But just as the debate seemed fi-
nally to settle on the economy, with all its gravity, the politics
of distraction reemerged. In the last of the three presidential
debates, McCain repeatedly cited a voter in Toledo, Ohio,
whom he called Joe the Plumber. Before the debate was over,

                     On Becoming a Leader

Joe the Plumber was being alternately hailed and vilified in the
blogosphere. He was a household name by the following day.
   In the final weeks, the presidential race turned really ugly. At
her rallies Palin continued to accuse Obama of terrorist associ-
ations, focusing on rehabilitated Weatherman Bill Ayers.
Chants of “Kill him” directed at Obama were heard from some
of the angry crowds. McCain bristled when civil rights leader
John Lewis accused him of allowing a dangerous undercurrent
of violence to develop at his campaign events. But anti-Obama
innuendo, slurs, and distortions continued to mark the McCain
campaign. Automated “robocalls” from the Republican Party
warned anyone who picked up the phone away from Obama
with charges of terrorist associations, involvement in voter fraud,
and nefarious plans to redistribute the nation’s wealth. Race was
rarely mentioned during the campaign (until the Colin Powell
endorsement was dismissed by some as an act of racial solidar-
ity), but race was always close to the surface. Democrats feared
the possible effect of an active on-line campaign that falsely but
graphically presented Obama as a Moslem with ties to al-Qaeda.
Supporters feared for Obama’s life in a nation that has seen more
than its share of politically and racially motivated assassinations.
So did the U.S. government, which had assigned Obama Secret
Service protection before any other candidate.
   By mid-October Irish bookmakers were already paying off
bettors who had put their money on Obama to win. But his
supporters worried that polls that showed him ahead of Mc-
Cain might be distorted by the Bradley Effect. That phenome-
non was named for the late Tom Bradley, the first black mayor
of Los Angeles, who ran for governor of California in the
1980s against George Deukmejian. Overwhelmingly, the polls
showed Bradley in the lead. But he lost the election because,
political scientists conjectured, voters feared being thought

       Epilogue to the Twentieth-Anniversary Edition

racist if they told pollsters they did not plan to vote for Bradley.
Race was not the only emotionally charged issue in the 2008
campaign. Age was another. Obama, who fully exploited the
Internet to raise funds, organize his supporters, and get out the
vote, was the clear favorite of young, technologically hip vot-
ers. Obama even advertised on popular video games in the last
weeks of the campaign. Although McCain argued that his age
was evidence of his experience, many potential voters, includ-
ing older ones, thought he was too old to serve as president.
Their fears about his age were exacerbated by his history of
malignant melanoma and by his choice of so green and contro-
versial a running mate. McCain supporters accused the Obama
campaign of exploiting such fears when they called McCain
“erratic” in frequently changing his positions and tactics.
   We now know who Americans wanted as their president. But
it is interesting to look back at what qualities Americans said
they were seeking in a president before the election. The na-
tional study on confidence in leadership that I alluded to earlier
asked that question. Five qualities or traits were identified as
extremely important by half or more of the respondents. The
single most important trait was honesty and integrity, named by
66 percent. Next most important—intelligence. Ability to com-
municate was next, followed by willingness to work with people
in both political parties and the ability to bring the American
people together. The least important trait was having served in
the military, which just 13 percent thought extremely impor-
tant. Being likeable was the next lowest in importance (21 per-
cent). Only 23 percent believed experience in Washington was
extremely important. Two other responses are noteworthy. A
strong belief in God was extremely important to 38 percent of
those who responded. Having new ideas was extremely impor-
tant to almost the same number (37 percent).

                    On Becoming a Leader

   Those top five traits were perceived as extremely important
across political or ideological lines. But the study reported sig-
nificant differences between Republicans and Democrats on
the value of other traits. Decisiveness, a strong belief in God,
and military service were more important (in that order) to Re-
publicans than Democrats. Democrats thought experience in
foreign policy, having new ideas, understanding and sympa-
thizing with others, experience in Washington, and being like-
able were more important than Republicans did. The biggest
gap between the parties was this: 14 percent or more Democ-
rats than Republicans thought the following were extremely or
very important—having new ideas, understanding and sympa-
thy with other others, and being likable.
   The study was published in November 2007, and it is fasci-
nating to see which candidates were ascendant at that time.
The top choice was Hillary Rodham Clinton—33 percent of
respondents said they had a great deal of confidence she would
be a good president. Barack Obama was second, with 22 per-
cent reporting a great deal of confidence in his ability to lead.
Next was Rudy Giuliani, chosen by 18 percent. John Edwards
followed at 13 percent. Twelve percent said they had a great
deal of confidence that John McCain would be a good presi-
dent. Also worth noting is that 26 percent of respondents said
they had no confidence (“none at all”) that Clinton would
make a good president. That was the largest no-confidence rat-
ing in the study. Nineteen percent had no confidence in Barack
Obama, and 20 percent had no confidence in John McCain.
   When retired general Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama
on “Meet the Press” on October 19, Powell described Obama
as a “transformational figure” who was the right president for
this moment in time. The long, contentious campaign had

       Epilogue to the Twentieth-Anniversary Edition

been a “final exam” for McCain and Obama, in Powell’s view.
Obama emerged as his choice because “he has both style and
substance.” The former Bush secretary of state said he
thought the new president should address both the American
people and the world at large to describe how his policies will
be different from those of the past eight years. One of the
most pressing challenges the new president will face, Powell
said, is “to fix the reputation we’ve left with the rest of the
   In the run-up to the election, historian Doris Kearns Good-
win noted that an even temperament characterized many of
our best presidents. No matter what crisis Lincoln and FDR
faced, they dealt with it in a calm, deliberative way. And great
leaders are often able to rise above personal disappointments
and hurts, even tragedies. Lincoln’s political genius included
his ability to assemble a brain trust of his former political
opponents into a brilliant “team of rivals.” “You can’t let
resentments poison you,” Goodwin said.
   It is clear that the new president will have to restore not just
the broken economy, but the confidence of the nation. He will
have to give the country its optimism back. The very fact of his
election is a giant first step in that process. As Colin Powell
predicted, Obama’s election was a matter of pride not just for
African Americans, but for all Americans. My guess is that
Obama will conduct his new presidency with Lincoln, FDR
and John F. Kennedy in mind (we know he read Doris Kearns
Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lin-
coln during the campaign). There is a time-tested pattern for
inspiring American citizens. Our greatest leaders have re-
minded us that we are all in this together, and that we will have
to make hard choices, even sacrifices.

                    On Becoming a Leader

   In the months ahead, the new administration will also have
to begin discovering and undoing the worst machinations of
the Bush years. None of that will be possible until the reflexive,
even obsessive opacity of the previous administration is re-
versed and more transparent government restored.
   Obama must also reach out to the rest of the world. It, too,
needs reassuring. He will have to overcome the isolation of
the United States that Bush’s policies created. Many other na-
tions seem eager to work with the new president. More than
any president in our history, Obama looks like the rest of the
world. That is an asset of incalculable value. Obama wasn’t
just the choice of American voters. He was the world’s pre-
ferred candidate, in a campaign that was followed overseas as
avidly as the world soccer finals. Just as international coopera-
tion helped save far-flung banks and other financial institutions
in 2008, we will need ongoing international collaboration to
solve such enormous, shared problems as global warming, nu-
clear containment, and potentially explosive economic disparity
throughout the world.
   A classic purveyor of hope, Obama was able to energize
young voters as never before. His appeal was even more palpa-
ble than John Kennedy’s. Millions of older voters who had
grown cynical about government and the electoral process
were also galvanized. Those voters, young and old, whose
passion was reignited now constitute a precious pool of talent
excited by the possibilities of public service, including govern-
ment. As a nation we pay a terrible price when we stop believ-
ing in the possibility of good government. In our disdain, we
cede our country to the ideologues and the hacks. Those who
worked for Obama’s election know the joy of struggling for
and achieving significant change. Now, while the crackle is
still in the air, is the time to create twenty-first-century

       Epilogue to the Twentieth-Anniversary Edition

versions of the Peace Corps and dozens of other organizations
that tap American energy and idealism.
   In 2008, all eyes were on the men and the woman who
sought the highest office in the land. But it is a mistake to focus
only on leaders. Even if we rise to become president of the
United States, we spend most of our lives as followers, not
leaders. In the past we have tended to think of the distinction
between the two hierarchically. But, in fact, as our workplaces
and other organizations become flatter and more collegial, the
terms become less and less meaningful. Leadership is a tempo-
rary assignment among Google engineers, who serve for a
time, then pass the crown to another member of their small
working groups. Even in more traditional organizations, a re-
ciprocal relationship exists between leaders and followers.
Leader and follower are partners in the same dance. It is our
most important obligation as followers to speak truth to power.
As hundreds of unemployed whistle blowers can tell you, can-
dor is a more dangerous job than silence. Speaking truth to
power always requires courage, and when the stakes are high
enough, it demands true heroism. But the follower who boldly
points out the elephant in the room or the flaw in the boss’s
preferred plan is transformed into what can only be called a
leader—someone who assumes responsibility and acts in the
best interest of the group. And it’s not only the whistle blowers
or the dissenters who need to be listened to, to be heard. We all
do. A story about FDR comes to mind: crowded, grieving
masses surged along Constitution Avenue in April 1945, wait-
ing for his funeral cortege to pass by. As his hearse neared, a
well-dressed, middle-aged man standing in the throng fell to
his knees, sobbing desperately until finally regaining his com-
posure. A stranger by his side asked, “Did you know the Presi-
dent?” The man could barely reply. “No. . .but he knew me.”

                     On Becoming a Leader

   As someone who remembers the Great Depression, I can as-
sure you that the financial crisis of 2008 was an order of magni-
tude less serious. But it was a genuine crisis nonetheless, and
they are always crucibles of leadership. Becoming a leader is
not an orderly path. It is a fitful, often painful process that
involves wrong turns and dead ends before great strides are
made. Usually some transformative event or experience is cen-
tral to finding one’s voice, learning how to engage others
through shared meaning, and acquiring the other skills of lead-
ership. FDR’s lifetime struggle with polio was most certainly
his crucible of leadership. Instead of simply enduring hard
times, we have to seize every opportunity for transformation
they afford. In recent weeks, as the stock market rocked and
rolled, I thought often of what Abigail Adams had written to
John Quincy Adams in the turbulent days of 1780: “These are
the hard times in which a genius would wish to live. . . . Great
necessities call forth great leaders.”
   It is significant, I think, that Adams chose the plural, leaders.
Especially now that the United States has an exciting new
president, it is easy to forget that we need more than one
gifted leader at a time. At the founding of the United States,
when our population was less than 4 million, we had six tower-
ing leaders: Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison,
Franklin, and Adams. Now that we number more than 304
million people, we are surely capable of yielding at least 600
world-class leaders in this country alone.
   Will you be one of them?


                      Herb Alpert and Gil Friesen
Alpert and Friesen were two-thirds of the remarkable triumvi-
rate that, with Jerry Moss, headed the A&M record label.
They sold the company to Polygram for more than $500 mil-
lion in 1990. As a performer, Alpert and his Tijuana Brass
were an important part of the popular music scene of the
1960s. In addition to accumulating platinum records and
Grammy Awards, Alpert is an inventive business leader, artist,
and head of the Herb Alpert Foundation. Friesen, who started
as general manager of A&M, became president in 1977. After
broadening A&M’s musical mix, Friesen established A&M
Films. The sensitive study of adolescence, The Breakfast Club,
was among the operation’s box-office successes. Friesen left
the company in 1997 and was a founding partner of Classic
Sports, a cable network sold to ESPN in 1997. In 2000, Alpert
and Moss sold Rondor, their music publishing company, to
Universal Music Group for an estimated $400 million. In
2002, they stood to make more than $200 million on the deal,


thanks to a contract that required Universal and, later, Vivendi
to compensate them if the parent company’s stock plummeted.
Alpert and Moss were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame in 2007. They received the President's Merit Award at
the 2008 Grammy Awards.

                                    Gloria Anderson
A graduate of the University of Texas School of Journalism
with an MA from the University of Wisconsin, Anderson has
been a reporter for the Associated Press, an editor at the
Cincinnati Enquirer and the Charlotte Observer, managing editor
of the Knight-Ridder news wire, and managing editor of the
Miami News. She was founding editor and co-publisher of
Miami Today and editor and publisher of the Kendall Gazette in
suburban Miami. Formerly head of The New York Times Syndi-
cate, she is now vice president for international and editorial
development in the News Services Division of the Times. She
has served as a Pulitzer Prize juror and as president of the
World Editors Forum.

                                     Anne L. Bryant
Born in 1949 in the Boston area, Bryant has a BA in English
from Simmons College and a doctorate in education from the
University of Massachusetts. She was vice president of the
professional education division of P. M. Haeger & Associates,
a Chicago-based association management firm, from 1974 to
1986. She then became executive director of the American As-
sociation of University Women, a national organization that
promotes equity for women and girls in education and other
arenas. She is now executive director of the National School
Boards Association, which represents the concerns of more


than 14,500 school districts nationwide. She also serves as the
vice chair of the Schools & Libraries Committee of the Uni-
versal Service Administrative Company, the not-for-profit
corporation chosen by the FCC to administer the Universal
Service Fund.

                                          James Burke
Born in Rutland, Vermont, in 1925, and a graduate of Holy
Cross College, Burke has an MBA from Harvard Business
School. He joined Johnson & Johnson as a product director in
1953, was named director of new products in 1955, president
in 1973, and chairman and CEO in 1973. During his tenure at
the pharmaceutical giant, he was best known for his leadership
during the Tylenol-tampering crisis in 1982. Burke retired
from Johnson & Johnson in 1989 to become chairman of the
board of Partnership for a Drug-Free America. For his work
with the Partnership, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of
Freedom by Bill Clinton in 2000, and in 2002, became chair-
man emeritus of the anti-drug group.

                                     Barbara Corday
A native of New York City, Corday was born into a theatrical
family. Her first job in show business was with a small theatrical
agency. She became a publicist and then a screenwriter, with
partner Barbara Avedon. In eight years together, they wrote
numerous TV scripts and series pilots and served as executive
story consultants on several series. After a stint as an ABC-TV
executive, she joined Columbia Pictures Television as an inde-
pendent producer and president of her own company, Can’t
Sing, Can’t Dance Productions. In 1984, she became president
of Columbia Pictures Television, and then president and CEO


of Columbia/Embassy Television, overseeing every aspect of
production. She later became CBS’s executive vice president for
prime-time programming. She was a co-founder of the Holly-
wood Women's Political Committee. Corday now teaches at
the University of Southern California, where she is chair of the
division of film and TV production in its School of Cinema-

                                         Horace B. Deets
Deets came up through the ranks of the American Association
of Retired Persons, now AARP, and was elected executive di-
rector by the board at the age of 50. Under his leadership, the
organization became increasingly visible, helping give voice to
the burgeoning group of Americans over 50. Prior to joining
AARP, Deets worked for the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission. Once a teacher and school administrator in Ala-
bama, he has a BA from St. Bernard College in Alabama and a
master’s degree from Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
After thirteen years as executive director of AARP, Deets re-
tired in 2002 to become a senior advisor to its new leadership.
He is now the chair of HelpAge International America, a
global not-for-profit organization working to improve the lives
of disadvantaged older people. He is also a research fellow at
MIT’s Age Lab, as well as a visiting research fellow at the Uni-
versity of Oxford's Institute of Ageing.

                                    Robert R. Dockson
A native of Illinois, Dockson took both a master’s degree and a
doctorate at the University of Southern California. After four
years in the Navy in World War II, he taught at Rutgers Univer-
sity, then spent six years as a financial economist. In 1954, he was


named professor and chairman of the Department of Marketing
at the University of Southern California. In 1960, he established
the undergraduate School of Business and the Graduate School
of Business Administration at USC. He served as dean of the
school for ten years. He joined CalFed (later absorbed by Citi-
group), the holding company of California Federal Savings and
Loan in 1969, became president in 1970, CEO in 1973, and
chairman in 1977. Since he retired from CalFed in 1988, he has
been active in academic, civic, and philanthropic affairs, includ-
ing the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation,
devoted to studying and solving social problems in the Los
Angeles area.

                                         Richard Ferry
Ferry is co-founder and former president and director of
Korn/Ferry International, the world’s leading executive search
firm. Since its founding in 1969, Korn/Ferry has become a ma-
jor force in shaping the leadership of corporations and organi-
zations and has helped shape the field with its emphasis on
industry specialization and professional consulting practices.
Since Ferry’s retirement in 1995, he has been active in educa-
tional, civic, and charitable activities in southern California. He
has also served as a director of Avery Dennison, Dole Food
Company, Mrs. Fields’ Famous Brands, and Pacific Mutual
Holding Company, the parent company of Pacific Life.

                                          Betty Friedan
Author and feminist leader Friedan graduated first in her class
from Smith College in 1942 and did graduate work at the Uni-
versity of California at Berkeley. Fired from her newspaper job
when she became pregnant (she is the mother of three), she


began looking into the lives of her fellow Smith College alum-
nae and, inspired by that research, wrote her feminist classic,
The Feminine Mystique. She co-founded the National Organi-
zation for Women, the National Women’s Political Caucus,
the International Feminist Congress, and the First Women’s
Bank, an economic think tank for women. In 1993, she pub-
lished her pioneering book on aging, The Fountain of Age. She
was a visiting professor at numerous universities, including
USC, and she continued to study, write and speak out on gen-
der equality, aging, and other social and political issues until
her death in 2006.

                                    Alfred Gottschalk
Born in Germany in 1930, Gottschalk came to America in
1939, earned his BA at Brooklyn College, his master’s, doctor-
ate, and law degrees at the University of Southern California,
and his bachelor of literature degree at Hebrew Union Col-
lege. After becoming a rabbi, he continued to teach at Hebrew
Union and became president there in 1971. Now president
emeritus, he is active in civic, philanthropic, educational, and
religious affairs, serving as both a trustee of the Museum of
Jewish Heritage and a director of the National Underground
Railroad Freedom Center.

                                         Roger Gould
With a medical degree from Northwestern University School
of Medicine, and a second degree in public health, Gould in-
terned at Los Angeles County Hospital and completed his psy-
chiatric residency at the University of California/Los Angeles.
An associate clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, he is a
practicing psychiatrist and innovator in the use of computers in


psychiatry and the psychology of weight control. He is the
author of Transformations: Growth and Change in Adult Life
(Simon & Schuster, 1978) and Shrink Yourself (John Wiley &
Sons, 2007).

                                  Frances Hesselbein
A native of Pennsylvania, Hesselbein was the first Girl Scout
chief executive to come up through the ranks. Starting as a
volunteer scout leader, she became CEO of the Girl Scouts of
the United States of America in 1976 and served in that capac-
ity until 1990. Her leadership of the Girl Scouts earned her
Fortune magazine’s recognition as “best nonprofit manager in
America.” She is a winner of the nation’s highest civilian
honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and founding pres-
ident of the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Man-
agement, now the Leader to Leader Institute. Her books
include the 2002 best-seller, Hesselbein on Leadership, and Be,
Know, Do: Leadership the Army Way.

                                  Shirley Hufstedler
Born in 1925 in Denver, Colorado, Hufstedler earned her law
degree at Stanford University and established a private prac-
tice in Los Angeles in 1950. She was appointed a judge of the
Los Angeles County Superior Court in 1961 and in 1966,
associate justice of the California Court of Appeal. In 1968,
she was named to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth
District by President Johnson, and in 1979 was appointed
secretary of education by President Carter. Since leaving that
post in 1981, she has taught and practiced law, most recently
as senior counselor at the law firm of Morrison & Foerster in
Los Angeles.


                            Edward C. Johnson III
After graduating from Harvard in 1954, Johnson joined Fidelity
Investments in 1957 as a research analyst and then became the
portfolio manager of the Fidelity Trend Fund. He is now chair-
man of the board and CEO of Fidelity Investments.

                                    Martin Kaplan
Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1950, Kaplan has a bachelor’s
degree from Harvard University in molecular biology and a
doctorate in modern thought and literature from Stanford
University. He also took a First in English from Cambridge
University. He was a White House speechwriter, a journalist, a
deputy presidential campaign manager, and a vice president
and writer-producer during twelve years at Disney. He wrote
and executive produced the Eddie Murphy film The Distin-
guished Gentleman. He is now a research professor and holds
the Norman Lear Chair in Entertainment, Media, and Society
at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, as well as
being a regular commentator on National Public Radio and
contributor to the Huffington Post.

                                       Brooke Knapp
Knapp is a world-renowned pilot who has set more than 120
speed records in the air. She founded and operated Jet Air-
ways, an air charter company. A former chair of the Califor-
nia Commission on Aviation and Airports and a winner of
the Federal Aviation Administration Award for Extraordinary
Service, she has been an entrepreneur in southern California
real estate and other enterprises. She has served as a presi-
dent of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and as a com-
missioner on the California Coastal Commission. She is


currently on the board of My Jets, Inc., a firm that advises
corporations and other organizations about their aviation

                                          Mathilde Krim
Krim received a doctorate from the University of Geneva,
Switzerland, and did research on cytogenetics and cancer-causing
viruses at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. There, she
was on the team that developed the first test for the prenatal
detection of gender. She has also been on the research staff at the
Cornell University Medical School and Sloan-Kettering Institute
for Cancer Research, where she was head of the Interferon labo-
ratory. She was founding chair and chair of the board of directors
of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR). She
has received more than a dozen honorary degrees and numerous
awards for her pioneering work in raising public consciousness
about AIDS, including, in 2000, the Presidential Medal of
Honor, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

                                           Norman Lear
A producer, screenwriter, and director and co-founder of
People for the American Way, a 300,000-member civil-rights
organization, Lear was born in 1922 in New Haven, Connecti-
cut. He was educated at Emerson College and served in the Air
Force during World War II. In 1945, he entered the new field
of television as a comedy writer. As a writer-producer, he broke
new ground with such innovative shows as “All in the Family,”
“Maude,” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” A media en-
trepreneur, he is also active in liberal politics, advising political
leaders, and speaking out on civil-liberties issues. In 1984, Lear
was one of the first group of inductees into the Academy of


Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame. In 1999, he was
awarded the National Medal of Arts. In 2000, he and Internet
entrepreneur David Hayden bought the original copy of the
Declaration of Independence for $8.1 million. They then put
the founding document on tour, because, Lear said: “I want to
take it where Americans can see it.”

                                   Michael B. McGee
An All-American tackle at Duke University, McGee received a
bachelor’s degree in business, before being drafted by the St.
Louis Cardinals. He became an assistant coach at Duke when
an injury ended his career as a player. Head coach at 29, he
earned a doctorate and became an athletics administrator. In
1984 he moved to the University of Southern California as ath-
letic director. McGee was inducted into the College Football
Hall of Fame in 1990 for his leadership both on and off the
field. He served as athletic director at the University of South
Carolina for 12 years before retiring in 2005.

                                       Sydney Pollack
Pollack was born in 1934 in Lafayette, Indiana. He studied
acting in New York with legendary teacher Sanford Meisner.
He began directing in the new medium of television during its
Golden Age. He directed and produced more than twenty
films, including They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, The Way We
Were, Three Days of the Condor, Out of Africa, Tootsie, and The
Firm. His films have received more than forty Academy Award
nominations, including four for best picture. Pollack himself
was nominated three times. Out of Africa won seven Oscars,
including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. He
won the New York Film Critics’ Award for the highly ac-
claimed Tootsie. He continued to produce, direct, and act in a


stream of critically and commercially successful films until his
death in 2008.

                           Jamin B. (Jamie) Raskin
After graduating from both Harvard University and Harvard
Law School, Raskin served as an assistant attorney general in
Massachusetts and as general counsel to the National Rainbow
Coalition. In 1990, Raskin joined the faculty of American Uni-
versity's Washington College of Law in the nation's capitol, a
position he still holds today. There he founded and directed the
Marshall-Brennan Fellowship Program, a competitive program
that selects second- and third-year law students to teach high
school courses on the Constitution and citizenship and now
directs the Law and Government Program. In 2006, he won a
landslide victory in a bid for a seat in the Maryland state senate.

                                      S. Donley Ritchey
Retired CEO of Lucky Stores, Inc., Ritchey spent thirty-two
years with the company, starting as a part-time clerk while at-
tending college. A graduate of San Diego State University, he
has taught courses in management and marketing and lectured
at the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University,
USC, and elsewhere. He is a director of several corporations
and active in Danville, California, politics and civic and philan-
thropic work. After retiring from the board of directors of
AT&T in 2007, Ritchey was appointed to the board at San
Diego State University's College of Business Administration.

                                     Richard Schubert
Born in Trenton, New Jersey, Schubert attended Eastern
Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts, and graduated
from Yale Law School in 1961. He immediately joined the


legal staff of Bethlehem Steel. In 1971, he was named solicitor
for the Department of Labor, and subsequently became under
secretary of labor. In 1975 he returned to Bethlehem Steel and
became president four years later. He resigned in June 1982
and became president of the American Red Cross the follow-
ing year. He headed the international aid organization until
1989, and is credited with bringing it into the computer age.
He was president and CEO of the Points of Light Foundation
from 1990 until 1995. He is currently senior vice president of
the Executive Coaching Network and a founding member of
the Management & Training Corp.

                                           John Sculley
Born in 1939 in New York City, Sculley studied at the Rhode
Island School of Design, graduated from Brown University, and
took an MBA at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton
School. Rising through the marketing department at Pepsico,
he became president and CEO in 1974. Wooed away from
Pepsi by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Sculley became president
and CEO of the computer company in 1977. During his ten
years at Apple, he was celebrated for his marketing campaigns,
especially the 1984 Macintosh launch. An author and popular
speaker on the future, he is now a partner in the venture-capital
firm of Rho Ventures.

                                        Gloria Steinem
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Steinem graduated from Smith College
in 1956, spent two years in India on a Chester Bowles fellow-
ship, and then became a writer and journalist in New York. A
founding editor of both New York and Ms magazines, she is one
of the most respected and visible champions of women’s rights,


equal justice, and other moral and political causes. A co-
founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, she is a
much sought-after speaker and author of several best-selling
books, including Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Revo-
lution from Within, and Moving Beyond Words.

                             Clifton R. Wharton, Jr.
Wharton was born in Boston, entered Harvard at 16, and re-
ceived a BA in history. While an undergraduate at Harvard,
he was a founder and national secretary of the U.S. National
Student Association. He has a master’s degree in international
affairs from the Johns Hopkins University School of Ad-
vanced International Studies, a doctorate in economics from
the University of Chicago, and dozens of honorary degrees.
He was president of Michigan State University and chancel-
lor of the State University of New York system. From 1987 to
1993, he was chairman and CEO of Teachers Insurance and
Annuity Association of America and the College Retirement
Equities Fund—the world’s largest pension plan. As such, he
was the first African American to head a Fortune 500 service

                                         Larry Wilson
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Wilson grew up in Minnesota
and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a teach-
ing certificate. After a year as a teacher, he became an insurance
salesman and, at 29, became the youngest lifetime member
of the industry’s Million Dollar Round Table. In 1965, he
founded the Wilson Learning Corporation, now a multina-
tional corporate training and research firm. After selling Wil-
son Learning to John Wiley & Sons, Wilson founded the


Wilson Learning Interactive Technology Group in Santa Fe,
New Mexico, in partnership with Wiley. He is also the founder
of the Alliance for Learning, a consortium of major corpora-
tions dedicated to advancing adult learning, and a much
sought-after organizational consultant.

                                 Renn Zaphiropoulos
Born in Greece, the son of a sea captain, Zaphiropoulos was
raised in Egypt. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in
physics from Lehigh University and is the holder of dozens of
patents. His work as assistant director for research and devel-
opment at Chromatic Television Laboratories led to the de-
velopment of Trinitron. A pioneer in electrostatic printing, in
1969, he co-founded Versatec, the world’s leading manufac-
turer of electrostatic printers and plotters, which merged with
Xerox in 1979. Now retired from Xerox, he is a frequent lec-
turer at universities and in other forums, a consultant, author,
sailor, breeder of Shire horses, and chef.


Introduction to the Revised Edition, 2003
xi Thomas L. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Global-
       ization, Anchor (2000).
xiii Bethany McLean, “Where’s the Loot Coming From?,” Fortune, Septem-
       ber 7, 1998; “CEO Pay Tomorrow: Same as Today,” BusinessWeek On-
       line, August 21, 2002.
xvi Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas, Geeks & Geezers: How Eras, Values,
       & Defining Moments Shape Leaders, Harvard Business School Press (2002).
xvii Jeffrey Zaslow, “Tricks of the Trade: Whistleblower’s Warning,” Wall
       Street Journal, October 30, 2002.
xix Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman, Organizing Genius: The Se-
       crets of Creative Collaboration, Perseus Publishing (1998).
xxii David McCullough on Harry S. Truman, in Character Above All, ed. by
       Robert A. Wilson, Simon & Schuster (1996).
xxii Karl Weick, “Legitimization of Doubt,” in The Future of Leadership, ed.
       by Warren Bennis, Gretchen Schweitzer, and Thomas Cummings,
       Jossey-Bass (2001).
xxiii Robert M. Sapolsky, A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional
       Life Among the Baboons, Scribner (2001).
xxiv William James, Letters of William James, Vol. I (1878).

Introduction to the Original Edition, 1989
xxvii Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Poet,” Essays: Second Series (1844).
xxvii Harlan Cleveland, The Knowledge Executive, E. P. Dutton (1985).
xxviii Georges Braque, Pensées sur I’Art.
xxx Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartes (1837).

Chapter 1: Mastering the Context
1 Time, November 9, 1987.
8 Warren Bennis, Daniel Coleman, and James O’Toole with Patricia Ward
      Biederman, Transparency, Jossey-Bass (2008).
10 Quoted by William Bridges in “Getting Them Through the Wilderness:
      A Leader’s Guide to Transition,” in New Management, Fall 1988.
13 James Madison, The Federalist, #10 (1787).
14 Robert N. Bellah, Richard Madsen, William Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and
      Steven Tipton, Habits of the Heart, Harper & Row (1985).
19 Wallace Stevens, “Six Significant Landscapes,” Collected Poems of Wallace
      Stevens, Knopf (1978).

Chapter 2: Understanding the Basics
37 Henry Kissinger, in an interview broadcast on KCET, Los Angeles, Novem-
      ber 14, 1988.
46 Abraham Zaleznik, “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?” Harvard
      Business Review, May–June 1977.
47 Sonya Friedman, “An Interview With Sonya Friedman,” Q Magazine,
      March 1987.

Chapter 3: Knowing Yourself
49 William James, Letters of William James, Vol. I (1878).
52 Gib Akin, “Varieties of Managerial Learning,” Organizational Dynamics.
58 David Riesman with Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney, The Lonely Crowd,
      Yale University Press (1950).
59 Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago. Pantheon (1958).
60 William James, Principles of Psychology (1890).
60 Erik Erikson, Life Cycle Completed, Norton (1982).

Chapter 4: Knowing the World
68 James W. Botkin, Mahdi Elmandjra, and Mircea Malitza, No Limits to
      Learning, Pergamon Books (1979).
73 Victor Goertzel and Mildred Goertzel, Cradles of Eminence, Little, Brown
75 Richard Wilbur, Ceremony and Other Poems, Harcourt Brace (1950).
75 Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, Simon & Schuster (1987).
75 E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know,
      Houghton Mifflin (1987).


75 Diane Ravitch and Chester E. Finn, Jr., What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?
       Harper & Row (1987).
76 Lynne Cheney, “My Turn,” Newsweek, August 11, 1986.
77 Roger Smith, Educating Managers, Jossey-Bass (1986).
78 Frank Stanton, Chronicle of Higher Education, September 1986.
78 Ray Bradbury, “Management From Within,” New Management, Vol. I,
       No. 4, 1984.
84 Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, Power of Myth (1988).
88 J. Robert Oppenheimer, Science and the Common Understanding, Simon &
       Schuster (1957).
88 John Cleese, “No More Mistakes and You’re Through,” Forbes, May

Chapter 5: Operating on Instinct
96 Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden, Random House (1977).
105 Wallace Stevens, Necessary Angel, Vintage (1942).
106 Henry James, Notebooks of Henry James, edited by F. O. Matthiessen and
     Kenneth B. Murdock, Oxford University Press (1961).

Chapter 6:
Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything
125 Mark Salzman, “Wushu: Meditation in Motion,” New York Times Magazine,
     March, 1987.
126 George Leonard, Esquire, March 1986.
130 Carlos Fuentes, as quoted in Elle.

Chapter 7: Moving Through Chaos
137 Jacob Bronowski, Ascent of Man, Little, Brown (1973).
139 Morgan McCall and Michael Lombardo, study cited in “Learning the
      Lessons of Successful Leadership,” Success, April 1984.
140 John Keats, letter to his brothers, George and Thomas (1817).
140 John Gardner, “Leadership Papers,” Leadership Studies Program, Inde-
      pendent Sector (1987).
145 Lynn Harrell, Ovation.
146 Frank Rich, “The Father Figure,” New York Times Magazine, September
      30, 2001; “Person of the Year 2001: Rudy Giuliani,” Time, December 31,
      2001-January 7, 2002; “Setting a New Standard for Leadership: Mayor
      Rudy Giuliani,” People, December 31, 2001.


Chapter 8: Getting People on Your Side
153 Max De Pree, Leadership Is an Art, University of Michigan Press (1988).
156 William Frederick and James Weber, study, University of Pittsburgh (1988).
156 Marilyn Cash Mathews, study, Washington State University (1988).

Chapter 9: Organizations Can Help—or Hinder
167 Bennis et al., Transparency.
169 U.S. Census 2000; “Data Points: Changing U.S. Demographics, Getting
      Older and More Diverse,” U.S. News & World Report, www.usnews.com,
      November 9, 2008.
171 Tom Peters, personal communication.
176 Tom Peters, Thriving on Chaos, Knopf (1987).
177 Albert Einstein, letter.
178 Morgan McCall, Jr., Michael Lombardo, and Ann Morrison, The Lessons
      of Experience, Lexington Books (1988).
179 Lyman W. Porter and Lawrence E. McKibbon, Management Education and
      Development: Drift or Thrust into the 21st Century, McGraw-Hill (1988).

Chapter 10: Forging the Future
186 Paul Krugman, “The End of Middle-Class America (and the Triumph of
      the Plutocrats),” New York Times Magazine, October 20, 2002.
187 Rosabeth Moss Kanter, When Giants Learn to Dance, Simon & Schuster
188 Max De Pree, Leadership Is an Art, University of Michigan Press (1988).
192 D. Verne Morland, “Lear’s Fool: Coping With Change Beyond Future
      Shock,” New Management, Vol. II, No. 2.
193 J. Sterling Livingston, “Pygmalion in Management,” Harvard Business
      Review, September–October 1988.
194 Elizabeth Drew, “Letter From Washington,” The New Yorker, October
      10, 1988.
195 James O’Toole, Vanguard Management, Doubleday (1985).


Abboud, Robert, 135–136                     Authenticity, xxviii, 47. See also Self-
Abilities, capabilities and, 116–118             invention
Adams, Abigail, xxiv–xxv, 15, 185, 226      Autonomy, innovative learning and, 73
Adams, John, xvii, 12, 206                  Avedon, Barbara, 87, 229
Adams, John Quincy, xxiv, 185, 226          Ayers, Bill, 220
Adaptive capacity, xxvi–xxviii
Adler, Stella, xxxvi                        Backtalk, 190
Adult learning, xxxiv–xxxv                  Bacon, Francis, 205
Adversity                                   Barthelot, Jeffrey, 216
   leading through, 140                     Bell, Alexander Graham, 12
   learning from, 20, 88–93, 138–140,       Bell, Derek, 117
      142–143                               Bellah, Robert, 14
   randomness of, 139                       Bellow, Saul, xxvii
   See also Failure                         Berlin, Isaiah, 154
Aeschylus, 138                              Biden, Joseph, 213, 215–216
Age, 2008 presidential campaign and,        Biederman, Patricia Ward, xxii
      221                                   Blame, self-knowledge and, 53–55
Aging, of American population, 169–170      “Blessed impulse,” 98–99, 103–105
Airline industry, deregulation of, 9        Blogs, 167, 211
Akin, Gib, 52                               Bloom, Allan, 75
Alpert, Herb, 227–228                       Boesky, Ivan, 5
   on empathy, 148–149                      Bohr, Neils, 113
   instinct and, 99                         Boisjoly, Roger, xxi
   on knowing values, 120                   Bork, Robert, 216
Alstadt, Donald, 186                        Bosses, 140–142
Alternative media, electoral process and,   Botkin, James W., 68–69
      211                                   Bottom-line mentality, 156–157
A&M Records, 120                            Bradbury, Ray, 78–79
Ambition, 79, 117                           Bradley Effect, 220–221
American decline, 199–204                   Bradshaw, Thornton, 195–196
Anderson, Gloria, 45, 117, 120, 124, 228    Brain
Anticipation, 52, 71                          left vs. right/whole, 96–97, 98
Ascent of Man, The (Bronowski), 137           plasticity of, 63
Astaire, Fred, 125                          Braque, Georges, xxxii


Breslau, Karen, 216                             approach of organizations to, 165–166
Bronowski, Jacob, 137                           leaders allowing in own lives, 162–164
Brooks, David, 40–41                            managing, 137
Bryant, Anne L., 86, 97, 118, 121,              pivotal forces of, 166–171
     228–229                                    using leadership voice for, 159–164
  on difficult boss, 141                         in world, xiii–xvi, 162
  on reflection, 57–58                        Chaos, 186–187
Buñuel, Luis, 130                            Character, xxvi, xxviii, 24, 134
Burke, James E. (Jim), 80–81, 81, 88, 138,   Character Above All (McCullough), xxvi
     190, 229                                Charisma, 147, 217–218
  on changing an organization’s culture,     Chast, Roz, 200–201
     161–162                                 Chayefsky, Paddy, 27
  on communicating vision, 188               Cheney, Dick, 76, 205–206
  on learning from mistakes, 90–91           Cheney, Lynne, 76–77
  on mastery, 127                            Childhood, growing from experiences of,
  professional ethics and, 157, 158                58, 62–63, 93
  on reflection, 108–109                      China
  Tylenol crisis and, 102, 142–145              as economic force, xv, 11, 169, 203
Burns, George, 193                              impact on United States, 10
Bush, George H. W., 38, 39                   Churchill, Winston, xxiv, xxxiii, 2
Bush, George W., 38, 200, 214                Cleese, John, 88–89
  2000 election of, xiv, 2–3                 Cleveland, Harlan, xxxi–xxxii
  distinctive voice of, xxv                  Clinton, Hillary Rodham, 212, 213, 214,
  failure of presidency of, 3, 40, 204–210         222
Business                                     Clinton, William J. (Bill), xiv, 2, 38,
  American culture and, xxxii–xxxiii, 17           39–40, 206–207, 218
  challenges to American, 18                 Closing of the American Mind, The
  changes in, 8–9                                  (Bloom), 75
  education for, 80–82                       Club of Rome, 68–71
  scandals, xviii–xix, 3, 5–6, 156           Codifying thoughts, 45
Byrd, Richard, 86                            Colbert, Stephen, 9, 211
                                             Collaboration, xxii–xxiii, 132
Cable television, 9, 211, 217                Common good, individual vs., 13
Caesar, Julius, 115                          Communication, Internet and, 8
Campbell, Joseph, 17, 84                     Community
Candor, xxi–xxii, 34, 207–209                   creating, 155
Capabilities, abilities and, 116–118            organization as, xix–xx, 184
Capacity for leadership, xxxi                   responsibility to, 132–133
Carlyle, Thomas, xxxiv                          World Wide Web and worldwide, xv,
Carlzon, Jan, 188–189                              166
Carter, Jimmy, xiv, 37, 38, 125, 192–193     Competence, 124–127, 155
Carter, Rosalynn, 38                         Complexity of life, 95–96
Castenada, Carlos, 130                       Conflicts, resolutions of life, 60–62, 113
Celebrity CEO, xvi–xvii                      Congruity, 152
Center for Creative Leadership, 139          Constancy, 152
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 7, 16     Context
Challenger explosion, xxi                       changing, 8–20
Champy, James, 176                              imagining future, 71–72
Change                                          mastering, xiv–xv, xxx–xxxi, 26–31,
  adaptive capacity and, xxvi                      185–187
  in American business, 8–9                     recognizing, 20


Coolidge, Calvin, 14                        Dinesen, Isak, 111
Corday, Barbara, 80, 87, 190, 191, 195,     Dissent, encouraging, 190–192
     229–230                                Dockson, Robert R., 67, 86, 122, 128,
  changes in career of, 162                      133, 230–231
  on difficult bosses, 141–142                 on changing an organization’s culture,
  on empathy, 148                                160–161
  on enthusiasm, 124                          on learning from failure, 142–143
  on failure, 89–90                         Doctor Zhivago (Pasternak), 59
  on getting people on your side, 150       Dot-com implosion, xxiv
  on learning from experience, 138–139      Downey, Morton, Jr., 116
  on reflection, 110                         Dragons of Eden, The (Sagan), 96
  on self-mastery, 126–127                  Dream, managing, 188–190
Corporate leadership, vs. movement          Drew, Elizabeth, 194–195
     leadership, 150–151                    Drive, desire vs., 123
Covenantal relationships, 154               Drucker, Peter, 155, 188
Cradles of Eminence (Goertzel and           Dubai, 11
     Goertzel), 73–74                       Dukakis, Michael, 194–195
Crandall, Bob, 10
Creative collaboration, xxii–xxiii          Edison, Thomas, 11, 12
Creative problem solving, 71                Educating Managers (Smith), 77
Creativity, 78–79, 89, 177                  Education
  adaptive capacity and, xxvii                business and, 80–82
  age and, 130–131                            training vs., 42–44, 66
  money and, xix                              See also Learning
  reflection and, 84–85                      Edwards, John, 222
  strategic thinking and, 128               Einstein, Albert, 2, 65–66, 177–178
Crises of life, 60–62, 113                  Eisenhower, Dwight, 36–37, 38, 88
Crucible of leadership, xxiv–xxv, 36, 226   Eisner, Michael, 195
Cultural illiteracy, 75–76                  Elmandjra, Mahdi, 69
Cultural Literacy: What Every American      Emerson, Ralph Waldo, xxxi, xviii, 29,
     Needs to Know (Hirsch), 75                  46, 98–99
Culture                                     Emotional Intelligence, xxv
  of candor, xxi–xxii                       Empathy, xxv, 148–149
  changing, 186                             Empowerment, 179–182
Curiosity, 35, 98                           Emulation, 52
                                            Enron scandal, xxii, xviii, 5, 6, 156
Daley, Richard, 36                          Entrepreneurs, 99
Daring, 35                                  Environmental determinism, 63–64
Darwin, Charles, xxxiv, xxxiii              Erikson, Erik, 60–62, 113
De Pree, Max, 153–154, 188, 191             Escalante, Jaime, 194
Deets, Horace B., 91, 138, 230              Ethics, professional, 156–158
Demographic changes                         European Union, xv–xvi, 8, 10, 18
  aging population, 9, 169–170              Executive compensation, xix, xvii–xviii
  Latino population, 9, 170–171             Experience, learning from, 89–93,
Deregulation, 9                                  135–146, 178
Desire to achieve, 122–124                  Expression, means of, 134
Deukmejian, George, 220
Dialectical thinking, 131                   Failure
Dick Ferris Syndrome, 195                     learning from, 20, 89–91, 111, 182
Dickens, Charles, 67                          reflection and, 110–111
Dickinson, Emily, 12, 47                      Wallenda Factor and, 143


Faulkner, William, 45, 64                   Gottschalk, Alfred, 59–60, 84, 86, 101,
Fear, overcoming, 122                            163, 232
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), 7,     on character, 134
      16                                      on learning from adversity, 139
Federal Emergency Management Agency           on risks of leadership, 139
      (FEMA), 7                             Gould, Roger, 62, 82, 108, 118,
Ferris, Dick, 196                                232–233
Ferry, Richard, 231                           on group responsibility, 149
   on learning on the job, 138                on mastery, 127
   on short-term thinking, 17–18, 158         on mentors, 86
Fey, Tina, 217                                on reflection, 109, 111
Finn, Chester E., Jr., 75                     on self-invention, 50–51
Fitzgerald, F. Scott, 203                     on vision, 132
Fitzpatrick, Robert, 195                    Government, mistrust of, 15
Ford, Henry, 11, 174, 175                   Government scandal, 7
Franklin, Benjamin, 12, 84, 206, 226        Great Gatsby, The (Fitzgerald), 203
Frederick, William, 156                     Gretzky Factor, 194–195
Free association, 102–103, 137              Groups and learning, 87–88
Free-expression, xxxi, xxxiii               Grove, Andy, xix
Freud, Sigmund, 109                         Growth, continuation of in leaders, 98,
Friedan, Betty, xxxiii, 118, 231–232             131, 137
   on leading through voice, 151–152        Guerrilla marketing, 172
   on need and responsibility, 132
Friedman, Sonya, 47                         Habits of the Heart (Bellah), 14
Friedman, Thomas L., xv, 201                Hamilton, Alexander, 12, 226
Friends, learning from, 85–88               Hammer, Armand, 135, 195
Friesen, Gil, 100, 120, 227–228             Hammer, Michael, 176
Fuentes, Carlos, 130                        Handy, Charles, xix, 80
Fugard, Athol, 110                          Hanover, Donna, 146
Future, factors for forging, 187–198        Hardiness, adaptive capacity and, xxvii
                                            Harman, Sidney, xx
Gandhi, Mahatma, xxiv, xxxiii, 2, 178       Harrell, Lynn, 145–146
Gardner, John W., 1, 12, 41, 74, 140, 186   Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 12
Gates, Bill, 125                            Hayden, David, 28, 236
Geeks and Geezers (Bennis), xx              Hellman, Lillian, 35
Gehry, Frank, 44                            Hemingway, Ernest, 142
General Electric’s “People Factory,” 179    Hepburn, Katharine, xxxiii
Getty, J. Paul, 166                         Hesselbein, Frances, 233
Giannini, A. P., 67                           Girl Scouts and, 128–130, 131–132,
Girls Scouts. See Hesselbein, Frances            152–153
Giuliani, Rudolph, 146, 213, 222              on innovation, 98
Global economy, 2008 crisis in, 200–203       on learning, 82
Global interdependence, 8, 9–10,            Hirsch, E. D., Jr., 75
     168–169                                Hitler, Adolph, xxv, xxiv, 44
Goals, achieving, 116–119                   Hoffer, Eric, 185
Goertzel, Victor and Mildred, 73–74         Hope, 192–193, 224
Goldwyn, Sam, 191                           Huffington Post, 211
Goleman, Daniel, xxv                        Hufstedler, Shirley, 49–50, 142, 233
Goodwin, Doris Kearns, 223                    on failure, 91
Google, 1, 8, 211                             on realizing vision, 72
Gore, Al, xxv, 2, 214                       “Human gap,” 69


Hurricane Katrina, 7, 203, 204               Johnson & Johnson, 90–91, 102,
Hussein, Saddam, 15, 39                           142–145, 161–162
Huxley, T. H., 74                            Jung, Carl, xxxv, 188

Iacocca, Lee, xvi–xvii                       Kanter, Rosabeth Moss, 187
Iceland, 201                                 Kaplan, Martin (Marty), 53–55, 56, 234
Ideology, 209–210                              on the big questions, 75
Imagination, 97                                changes in career of, 163
Imaging technology, 168                        on competence, 124–125
Imperial leader, xvi–xvii                      on empathy, 148
Impulse, trusting, 91, 98, 99                  on point of view, 115
Income gap, xvii, 14                           on reflection, 57
Individual rights, common good vs., 13       Kay, Alan, 87
Individuality, ambiguous attitude toward,    Keats, John, 140
      44                                     Kennedy, Caroline, 212
Infotainment, 217                            Kennedy, John F., 36, 37, 38, 88, 218,
Inner voice. See Instinct                         223, 224
Innovation, 97–98                            Kennedy, Ted, 212
Innovative learning, 70–73                   Kerry, John, 214
Instinct, operating on, 29, 95–106           Khruschev, Nikita, 191
   luck and, 102                             King, Martin Luther, Jr., 2, 85, 125
   reliance on, 99–102                       Kissinger, Henry, 37
   right-brain characteristics and,          Knapp, Brooke, 50, 85, 182, 234–235
      102–103                                  on desire to achieve, 122, 123–124
Integrity, xxvi, xviii, 152                    on overcoming fear, 122
   as desirable quality of American          Knowing the world, 67–93
      president, 221                         Knowledge Executive, The (Cleveland),
   of institutions, 5                             xxxi–xxxii
   parts of, 34–35                           Koch, Howard, Jr., 103–104
   trust and, 35, 155–159                    Kozlowski, Dennis, xx
Intellectual capital, New Economy and,       Krim, Mathilde, 31, 66, 118–119, 143,
      xvi                                         235
Internet                                       on instinct, 101
   beginnings of, xiii, xv                     on requirements of growth, 98
   political campaigns and, 211                on self-knowledge, 45
   See also World Wide Web
Intuition, 97                                Lack of leadership, 2–4
Iraq War, 199, 204, 210                      Latinos, 9, 170–171
Islamic fundamentalism, 11–12                Leaders
                                               cyclical attitudes toward, xx
Jackson, Andrew, xxvi                          essential competencies of, xxv–xviii
James, Henry, 106                              importance of, 5
James, William, xxxiv, xxvviii, 49, 60, 64     managers vs., 41–46, 132
Japan, 11, 18, 168                           Leaders (Bennis & Nanus), xxix–xxx, 143,
Jefferson, Thomas, 12, 84, 226                    190, 192
Job rotation, 181–182                        Leadership
Jobs, Steve, 81, 238                           capacity for, xxxvi, xxxii–xxxiii
Joe the Plumber, 219–220                       defined, 132
Johnson, Edward C., III, 66, 234               demonstration of, xxxiii
Johnson, Lyndon, 37–38, 46                     lack of, 1
Johnson, Magic, 125                          Leadership development, 36, 178–182


Leadership Is an Art (De Pree), 153–154,   Levitt, Arthur, Jr., xxviii
      188                                  Lewin, Kurt, 135, 186
Lear, Norman, xxxiii, 26–31, 68, 235–236   Lewinsky, Monica, 40
  on Emerson, 98–99                        Lewis, John, 220
  on impact of business on ethics,         Lexus and the Olive Tree, The (Friedman), xv
      158–159                              Liberal arts education, 76–78, 80
  on individuality, 44                     Lieberman, Joe, 213
  on leading through adversity, 140        Life stages, 60–62, 113
  on short-term thinking, 16–17,           Lincoln, Abraham, 44, 218, 223
      156–157                              Lippman, Walter, 137
  on significance of citizen, 19            Little Red Book, The (Carlzon), 189
  on success, 48                           Livingston, J. Sterling, 193–194
  vision of, 30, 34                        Locke, John, xxxiv
Learning                                   Lombardi, Vince, 102
  about the world, 67–93                   Lombardo, Michael M., 139–140, 178,
  adult, xxxiv–xxxv                              180, 182, 183
  from adversity, 20, 88–93, 138–140,      Lonely Crowd, The (Riesman), 58
      142–143                              Long-term thinking, 195
  cultural illiteracy and, 75–76           Lorenzo, Frank, 10
  from experience, 89–93, 135–146, 178     Loyalty, candor vs., 207
  experiences significant for, 68–69        Luck, 102
  from friends and mentors, 59, 85–88      Luther, Martin, xxxiii
  groups and, 87–88
  innovative, 70–73                        Machiavelli, Niccolo, 102
  liberal arts education, 76–78, 80        Madison, James, 12, 13, 226
  lifelong, 78–82                          Mahler, Gustav, 181
  maintenance, 69–70, 72                   Maintenance learning, 69–70, 72
  from mistakes, 89–91, 182                Maldutis, Julius, 10
  modes of, 52–53                          Malitza, Mircea, 69
  motivations for, 53                      Managerial skills, 67
  opportunities for leadership and,        Managers, leaders vs., 41–46, 132
      179–182                              Mandela, Nelson, xxiv, xiii
  reflection and, 109–110                   Markets, forces affecting, 166–173
  schools and, 74–76                       Maslow, Abraham, 13, 107
  scientific, 53                            Mastery, 124–127
  self-invention and, 58–60, 65–66         Mathews, Marilyn Cash, 156
  self-motivated, 78–79                    Maturity, 34, 35
  shock, 69–70, 72–73                      Maxwell, Robert, 141
  teaching vs., 65–66                      MBA degree, 80–81, 81
  travel and, 83–84                        McAuliffe, Christa, xxi
  unlimited potential for, 56              McCain, John, 213–214, 215, 217,
  See also Self-knowledge                       219–220, 221, 222
“Lear’s Fool: Coping With Change           McCall, Morgan W., Jr., 139–140, 178,
      Beyond Future Shock” (Morland),           180, 182, 183
      192                                  McCaskill, Claire, 41
Left-brain thinking, 96–97                 McClellan, Scott, 208–209
Lehman Brothers, 3, 219                    McCullough, David, xxvi
Lennon, John, 61                           McGee, Michael B., 236
Leonard, George, 126                       McKibbon, Lawrence, 179
Lessons of Experience (McCall, Lombardo    McLuhan, Marshall, 8
      & Morrison), 178                     Megacorporations, 8


Melville, Herman, 12                         Organizations
Mentors, xxvii–xviii, 85–88, 183               change and, 159–166
Michael, Donald, 190                           as community, xix–xx, 184
Middle class, disappearance of, xvii, 14       forces affecting, 166–173
Middle East, 11–12, 209–210                    leaders and effectiveness of, 5
Milken, Michael, 5                             leadership development and,
Minsky, Marvin, 115                               178–179
Mission, 152, 155, 176, 184, 188               leadership tasks of, 176–177
Mistakes                                       people as primary resource of, 174,
  embracing, 190                                  175
  learning from, 89–91, 182                    as social architect, 174
  reflecting on, 111                            successful characteristics of, 176
Moments of Truth (Destroying the Pyramids)   Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative
     (Carlzon), 189                               Collaboration (Bennis and
Money, creativity and, xix                        Biederman), xxii–xxiii
Moral leadership, 38                         O’Toole, Jim, 195–196
Morland, D. Verne, 192
Morrison, Ann M., 178, 180, 182, 183         Paige, Satchel, xxxvii
Moss, Jerry, 100, 120, 227                   Palin, Sarah, 214, 216, 217, 218,
Movement leadership, 150–151, 153                 219, 220
Moyers, Bill, 84                             Pan Qingfui, 125–126
                                             Participation, 71
Nader, Ralph, xxvi                           Passion, 34
Nanus, Burt, xxix                            Pasternak, Boris, 59
Napoleon, 102                                Paulson, Henry, 200
Nature-nurture debate, 63–64                 Peccei, Aurelio, 69
New Economy, xvi, 6                          People as organizational resource, 174,
News, alternative sources of, 9, 211              175
Niche marketing, 172                         People skills, 147–164
9/11, xxv, xxiii, 15, 16, 146                Personal growth, 53
Nixon, Richard M., 37, 38, 46, 206, 218      Personal vision, 183
No Limits to Learning: Bridging the Human    Personality, origins of, 64
     Gap (Botkin, Elmandjra & Malitza),      Perspective, 109, 114–116
     68–69                                   Peters, Tom, 171–172, 176–177
Notebooks (James), 106                       Piaget, Jean, xxxiii, 65
                                             Picasso, Pablo, 130–131
Obama, Barack, 212–213, 220, 222             Plame, Valerie, 3, 208
  challenges facing, 223–224                 Plato, xxxv, xxxiv, 186
  charisma and, 217, 218                     Point of view, 115–116
  election of, 2, 9, 40–41                   Pollack, Sydney, xxxvii, 190, 236–237
  narrative of, 215                            on learning, 71
  Powell endorsement of, 222–223               on learning from experience, 136–137
Obstacles. See Adversity                       on mistakes, 91
O’Hagen, Andrew, 202–203                       on motivating people to follow,
Olson, Ken, 183                                   149–150
Once-born leaders, 46                          on right-brain leadership, 102–105
Oppenheimer, J. Robert, Jr., 88                on self-knowledge, 45
Opportunities for leadership, 179–182          on teaching leadership, 127–128
Optimism, 192–193                            Porter, Lyman, 179
Organization man, 96                         Powell, Colin, 212, 220, 222–223
Organizational Dynamics (Akin), 52           Practical accomplishment, 52


Presidency                                       on motivating people to follow, 150
  extension of power, 205–206                    on professional ethics, 157–158
  qualities necessary for, 221–222               on trust, 154
  self-made men and, 36–40                     Rogers, Carl, 13
Presidential election of 2008, 210–223         Role taking, 52
Principles of Psychology, The (James), 60      Roman Catholic Church, clergy sex
Priorities, recognizing, 119–121                    abuse scandal, 6
Problem solving, creative, 71                  Romney, Mitt, 213
Public service, 224–225                        Roosevelt, Franklin D., 2, 88, 125, 225
Public virtue, 13–14                             charisma and, 217, 218
Pygmalion effect, 193–194                        crisis and, 223
                                                 crucible of leadership and, xxiv, 36, 226
Race, 2008 presidential campaign and,            growth in office, 137
      220–221                                    self-invention of, 37, 38, 46, 51
Raskin, Jamin B. (Jamie), 79, 85,              Roosevelt, Theodore, 137
      183–184, 237                             Rowley, Colleen, xxii
  on ambitions, 117                            Rubinstein, Arthur, 130
  on luck and preparation, 102
  on passion, 124                              Sabbatical, 183–184
Ravitch, Diane, 75                             Sagan, Carl, 96
Reagan, Ronald, 2, 38–39, 76, 192, 193,        Salzman, Mark, 125–126
      218                                      Sapolsky, Robert, xxvii–xxviii
Recession, xiv, 199–200                        Sarnoff, Robert, 174
Red Cross, 153                                 Scandals
Re-engineering the corporation, 175–176          in business, xviii–xix, 3, 5–6, 156
Reflection                                        government agencies and, 7
  on experience, 56–58, 84–85, 183             Schools, learning and, 74–76
  resolution and, 108–114                      Schubert, Richard, 97, 237–238
  on success and failure, 110                    on leading the Red Cross, 153
  on what gives pleasure, 110–111                on relating to others, 133
Reflective backtalk, 190                        Schweitzer, Albert, 2
Reliability, 152                               Scientific learning, 53
Religious fundamentalism, xv, 11–12            Sculley, John, 81, 87, 119, 184, 191, 238
Resolution                                       on leadership vs. management, 132
  of life conflicts, 113                          on need for change in organizations,
  reflection and, 110, 112                            159–160
Responsibility                                   on perspective, 114
  to community, 132–133                          on vision, 100–101
  self-knowledge and, 53–55                    Self, emergence of, 107–108
Riesman, David, 58                             Self-awareness, 66
Right-brain thinking, 97                       Self-direction, 58–59
Risks                                          Self-expression, 29, 66, 106, 117
  of leadership, 139                           Self-invention, 46–51, 62–66
  strategic thinking and, 130                    learning and, 52–53, 58–60, 65–66
Risk-taking, 92–93, 182, 190                     life stages and, 60–62
Ritchey, S. Donley (Don), 46, 89, 163,           nature-nurture debate and, 63–64
      237                                        See also Self-knowledge
  on difficult bosses, 142                      Self-knowledge, 34–35, 45–46, 49–52
  on education, 82                               accepting responsibility and, 53–55
  on empathy, 149                                reflecting on experience and, 56–58
  on expectations, 194                           teaching oneself, 52–53


Self-made men, as leaders, 36–40             Technology, xv, 8, 166–168
Self-realization, 106                        Television
“Self-Reliance” (Emerson), 29, 98–99           changes in industry, 8–9
Self-transformation, xxxvi–xxxvii              physical attractiveness and charisma,
Shakespeare, William, 147                         218
Shared meaning, creating, xxv                  political campaigns and, 211, 217
Shaw, George Bernard, xxxiii, 193            Temperament, 223
Shock learning, 69–70, 72–73                 Terrorism, xxv, xxiii, 15, 16, 146
Short-term thinking, 17–18, 156–158          Terry, Robert, 132
Siebert, Muriel, 5                           Tests and measures, 116–122
Signing statements, 205                        knowing drives and satisfactions and,
Simplicity, 95                                    118–119
“Six Significant Landscapes” (Stevens),         knowing wants and abilities and,
      19                                          116–118
Sloan, Alfred, 174                             overcoming of differences, 121–122
Smith, Roger, 77                               values and priorities and, 119–121
Social networks, 167–168                     Thinking
Society, dangers to, 3–4                       codifying, 45
Socrates, xxxiv, 64                            dialectical, 131
Soviet Union, 18                               strategic, 127–130
Speaking truth to power, xxii, 225             whole-brain, 97, 98
Special projects, 180                        Thomas, Bob, xx, xxiv
Speed reading, 79                            Thoreau, Henry, 83
Stages of life, 60–62, 113                   Thriving on Chaos (Peters), 176
Stakeholder symmetry, 195–196                Tocqueville, Alexis de, 165
Stalin, Joseph, xxiv                         Tolstoy, Leo, 34
Stanton, Frank, 78                           Townsend, Robert, 181
Stein, Gertrude, 33                          Training, education vs., 42–44, 66
Steinem, Gloria, 99, 112, 238–239            Transparency, lack of, 204–205, 206–207
   on empathy, 148                           Travel, learning from, 83–84
   on “movement” vs. “corporate”             Truman, Harry, xxvi, 36–37, 38, 46, 51
      leadership, 150–151                    Trust, 35, 100–101, 133, 154
Stevens, Wallace, 19, 42, 105, 135             integrity as basis of, 155–159
Stewart, Jon, 9                                leading from voice and, 152
Stewart, Martha, xviii                         organizational change and, 161
Stock market, <xiv, xviii>, 14, 200          Truth, speaking to power, xxii, 225
Strategic alliances/partnerships, 197–198    Twain, Mark, 12, 95
Strategic thinking, 127–130                  Twice-born leaders, 46–48
Strategic vision, 183                        Tylenol crisis, 102, 142–145
Streisand, Barbara, xxxvii, 103–105
Subprime mortgage crisis, 6, 169, 201,       Understanding, self, 57
      203                                    Universities, learning and, 74–75
Success, 48                                  Unlearning, 59, 65
Sythesis, 130–134                            Up the Sandbox (film), 103–104

Tactical vision, 183                         Validation, 52
Teaching                                     Values, 119–121
  learning vs., 65–66                        Vanguard Management (O’Toole), 195
  oneself, 52–53                             Veblen, Thorsten, 83–84
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of      Virtue, 155
     Abraham Lincoln (Goodwin), 223            public, 13–14


Vision, 155                                Whistle blowing, xxi–xxii, 225
  communicating, 188                       Whitehead, Alfred North, 96
  guiding through, xxv, xxxiv, xxiii,      Whitman, Walt, 12
     33–34, 132                            Whitney, Eli, 12
  innovative learning and, 72              Whole-brain thinking, 98
  liberal arts education and, 77           Wiener, Norbert, 190
  managing, 188–190                        Wilbur, Richard, 75
  Norman Lear’s, 30, 34                    Wilde, Oscar, 124
  trusting, 98–101                         Wilson, Larry, 92–93, 123, 239–240
  types of, 183                            Wilson, Woodrow, 206
Voice, xxv–xxvi                            Winfrey, Oprah, 212
  change and, 159–164                      Wirthlin, Richard, 192
  leading through, 151–154                 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 79
  See also Instinct                        Women
                                            empathy and power and, 148
Wall Street, 5, 10                          self-invention and, 47
Wallace, Mike, 144                         Wood, Graeme, 206
Wallenda, Karl, xxxiv, 143, 190            Wooden, John, 190
Wallenda Factor, 143                       Wordworth, William, 111
Washington, George, 12, 226                Workplace demographics, 170–171
Watkins, Sherron, xxii                     World Wide Web
Way We Were, The (film), 103–105             effect on world, 166–168
Wayne, John, 13                             worldwide community and, xv
Weick, Karl, xxvi–xxvii                     See also Internet
Welch, Jack, 179, 189–190                  Wriston, Walter, 67
Welles, Orson, 217                         Writing, codifying thinking and, 45
Wharton, Clifton R., Jr., 181, 239         Wusbu, 125–126
What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?
     (Ravitch and Finn), 75                Yeats, William Butler, 190
What Happened: Inside the Bush White       Yorkin, Bud, 27
     House and Washington’s Culture of
     Deception (McClellan), 208–209        Zaleznik, Abraham, 46
When Giants Learn to Dance (Kanter), 187   Zaphiropoulos, Renn, 81, 240


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Description: Although mine is the only name on this book, it has been a collaboration, as all books are. I discovered long ago that the way I learn most effectively is in conversation with other people. It is in the playful, exhilarating, joyous thrashing out of ideas with brilliant colleagues that my own ideas are brought to life, refined and vetted. In previous editions of On Becoming a Leader, I tried to acknowledge all the people who originally helped to shape this book, and I remain enormously grateful to all those original collaborators and other colleagues and friends who so generously shared their counsel, expertise, and time.